Five Questions: Ohio State at Minnesota

This week Ohio State faces an offensive look that will resemble what it saw last week, but the man running it figures to make it a much more formidable foe. That and looks at the Golden Gopher running game, the OSU offense, big plays and more in this week's edition of The Five Questions.

1. Can Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber hurt the Buckeyes?

The name "Jake Locker" was mentioned more than once this week in discussions about Minnesota's redshirt freshman signal caller, Weber.

That should be enough to get the attention of the Buckeyes, who saw Locker (a redshirt freshman as well) lead a Washington offense that was by far the most successful in moving the ball against Ohio State during the first third of the season. Locker piled up 255 total yards, including 102 on the ground, and Minnesota will similarly deploy Weber on a number of option plays, quarterback sweeps and draws in the Golden Gophers newly installed "spread coast" offense.

After four games, Weber is among the nation's top 20 in total offense. His 322.0 yards per game include 64.3 on the ground, and Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman said those dual abilities separate the Golden Gopher offense from the attack that schematically resembles the Northwestern offense Ohio State stonewalled so successfully last weekend.

"He'll run, give it to a running back or throw it, so everyone has to play their responsibility and if not they'll beat you," Coleman said.

Weber does not possess the pure speed of Locker, but the Golden Gopher is a tough runner with a strong arm.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Weber shares another trait with Locker: an erratic arm. He completed just 52.2 percent of his passes (23-44) in a 45-31 loss to Purdue last week.

2. Will the Golden Gopher running game pose problems for Ohio State?

Few teams in the nation have run the ball as well as Minnesota in recent years. Though the approach has changed under new head coach Tim Brewster, the production has not.

Now running out of the spread instead of former coach Glenn Mason's more traditional sets, Minnesota has averaged 229.8 yards rushing per game this season.

The Golden Gophers want to spread opponents out and bust holes with traps, options and stretch plays. The zone-read option has also made its way into the Minnesota playbook.

Including Weber, they have three running threats in returning starter Amir Pinnix and newcomer Duane Bennett. Pinnix has rushed for 493 yards in four games after piling up 1,272 yards on the ground last season. His fumble against Purdue opened the door for Bennett, a freshman from Illinois, to see his first extensive time of the season, and the youngster responded with 81 yards on seven carries. He scored a touchdown and showed a nice burst to go with tough running.

"Bennett is a good football player and I am very excited about the progress he has made and what he brings to the table," Brewster said after the Purdue game. "He gave us a lift in the second half and he is only going to continue to get better as the season goes on."

He caught OSU linebacker Marcus Freeman's attention as well.

"You can see that he's a hard runner," Freeman said. "He's a guy that came in there and gave a little burst, showed he can break a lot of tackles and when he sees a hole he's going to hit it."

However, Freeman sees Weber as the key to the attack.

"He presents such a threat that everybody can't go after that zone play because he can easily pull it (and run himself)," Freeman said. "Him being able to use his feet as well as his arm, I think that's a big threat."

3. Is another fast start in the cards?

The Buckeyes will not find it easy against anyone to mimic the 28-point first quarter they posted against Northwestern last week, but the numbers indicate they could be in line to get out of the gate quickly nonetheless.

The Gophers have been outscored 89-48 in first halves this season.

Minnesota's early-game problems have stemmed largely from 12 first-half turnovers.

The Golden Gophers were guilty of four giveaways in the first half against Purdue and allowed the opening kickoff to be returned for a touchdown.

"They've had some things happen that allowed them to get behind, but as you watch the second half of every game, they are storming all the way to the last play of the game, which tells you a little bit about what they're all about," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday.

Ohio State's fast start against the Wildcats was in contrast to the first three games, so the Buckeyes will be anxious to get a new trend going.

4. Which way will the big plays go?

As Northwestern learned, Ohio State can score quickly. The Buckeyes have eight offensive touchdowns that covered 20 yards or more. Ohio State also has 10 other 20-plus-yard plays from scrimmage.

The Minnesota defense has been victimized by seven big-play TDs itself, meaning it may be look-out-below time in the Metrodome Saturday night.

However, Tressel told reporters the Golden Gophers were more susceptible to the big play in their first two games than the last two.

"I think defensively, in the early going, they got (caught) in some blitz situations and some people threw some balls in there against man and all of a sudden there was nobody there in pursuit," Tressel said.

Purdue scored touchdowns on a 95-yard kickoff return and a 43-yard interception return, but the longest touchdown the high-powered Boilermaker offense could muster was 16 yards as Minnesota went to a more passive zone-based, read-and-react defensive scheme.

5. How will the Ohio State offense continue to develop?

Boeckman showed against Northwestern he and his receivers can burn man coverage, but Minnesota may try to force him to dink and dunk the ball against a zone.

Will he be as effective?

Brian Robiskie has been the Buckeyes' deep threat early on, but this could be the week Brian Hartline and a newly healthy Dane Sanzenbacher show how well they can sit down underneath coverages. Robiskie is no slouch in the route-running department, either.

The Boilermakers also hurt the Gophers badly with slants and deep post routes.

If the deep ball is taken away, the running game will become all the more important, which is good news for the Buckeyes if they can keep their ball carriers healthy.

Purdue ran for 166 yards against Minnesota as the Boilermaker offensive line overpowered the Gopher front.

The Buckeyes have run well lately, but their No. 1 running back, Chris "Beanie" Wells is coming off a recurrence of an ankle injury and No. 2 threat Brandon Saine is not expected to play as he recovers from knee surgery.

With Purdue on the horizon, Ohio State would be wise to continue to develop new ways to use Maurice Wells, Saine's co-No. 2, while also seeing what walk-on Marcus Williams can do if needed. Perhaps letting freshman Daniel "Boom" Herron get his feet wet would not be a bad idea, either.

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