The Golden Gophers are last in the country in total defense, allowing 543.3 yards per game, and last in pass defense with 407.8 yards allowed. Minnesota is last in the country in turnover margin, averaging just one takeaway per game. The scoring defense, at 38.5 points per game, is 109th in the country out of 119 teams.
Ugly numbers all of them, but numbers that haven't appeared to make the Ohio State offense drool with expectation before this Saturday's meeting in the Metrodome. In fact, the Buckeye players made available to the media in advance of the game all had a healthy level of respect for what the Gopher stop troops can do.
"Minnesota has a great defense," Ohio State tailback Maurice Wells said. "I've watched film on them. They've kind of let up a couple big plays, but all in all I feel they can play pretty well."
They will have to in order to stop an OSU offense that appears to be hitting its stride. After a fairly slow start against Youngstown State and Akron that left players and coaches less than pleased with the offense, the Buckeyes used 30-point outburst in the second half against Washington to pace a 33-14 victory. That was followed by 45 points in the first half, the most in more than a decade, on the way to a thorough 58-7 drubbing of Northwestern.
So it would be easy for Ohio State to look at the Golden Gophers and think easy pickings, but that is not the case. Instead, the message is to continue along the path that has led to such high-scoring outbursts in the past two games.
"We have to keep on playing our game because they have a lot of solid guys over there," Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman said.
The good news for Minnesota is that the defense did show signs of improvement against a Purdue team that is known for its potent offense. Two of the Boilermakers' scores in their 45-31 win were not allowed by the Minnesota defense, instead coming on a kickoff return and an interception return.
"I thought we played much better defense," first-year Golden Gophers coach Tim Brewster said "We talked about alignment, we talked about assignments and we talked about tackling, and in all three of those areas I felt like we were much improved."
Even given Minnesota's porous defense, it's easy to see the Buckeyes are taking this game fairly seriously. Part of it comes from the team's stated goal to improve during every game, while part of it is a challenge laid down from the coaching staff to stay focused during a trip that will be different from OSU's first game against Washington.
"We are still experiencing some things we haven't experienced," head coach Jim Tressel said. "We haven't been on the road yet in the Big Ten. We haven't been on the road yet in the evening game. We haven't been on the road yet when we're in school and there are more things vying for our time and energy and so forth and we have to make sure we stay on top of those things. So we've got to make sure that the next new experience that this young team handles, we handle it properly."
Tressel's fear of such a foreign experience comes from experience. For the fifth year in a row, the team's Big Ten road opener will be a night game. The first three of those – in 2003 at Wisconsin, in '04 at Northwestern and 2005's opener at Penn State – Ohio State ended up on the losing end before dropping Iowa at Kinnick Stadium a year ago.
With that in mind, one of the themes the coaching staff has been telling the players, much like Tressel hinted at, is that the Buckeyes will have to overcome some adversity to move to 5-0.
"That's something we've been concentrating on," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "We know playing in the dome is going to be hot. It's going to be loud because all the sound is in there. It's a night game all the way in Minnesota. We're going to have to overcome a lot of adversity to go out there and play the way that we know that we can play."