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The Ohio State Buckeyes are coming off a big win over the Penn State Nittany Lions, but they will have to get right back up for the next game as another ranked opponent is coming to Columbus in the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Minnesota is a team that is seldom in the national spotlight these days, but they are off to a 7-1 start and have made their way into the rankings. Granted, they haven't played the toughest schedule, but this team is going to be looking to prove themselves against Ohio State, and there's no coach out there who would like to win this game more than Glen Mason.
The Golden Gophers are a young team, but they have evolved into a solid unit that could give OSU a fight. The offense is led by a fine rushing attack that consists of a great one-two punch in sophomore Terry Jackson (5-11, 196), who has rushed for 1031 yards on 160 carries (6.4 average) and 3 TDs, and FB Thomas Tapeh (Jr, 6-1, 223), who has rushed for 744 yards on 133 carries and 7 TDs. Jackson has been tremendous for this team as he has stepped up to replace the injured Marion Barber III, who was expected to be the team's top tailback this year. The rushing attack is complimented by the multi-dimensional QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who has rushed for 307 yards this year on 42 attempts.
When Abdul-Khaliq throws the ball, he'll have one of the nation's top tight ends to throw to in junior Ben Utecht (6-6, 250). He has 25 catches for 324 yards and 5 TDs this year. Senior Antoine Burns (6-1, 198, 246 yards and 2 TDs on 21 catches) and junior Aaron Hosack (6-6, 210, 18 catches, 403 yards, 3 TD) are two other favorite targets of Abdul-Khaliq, who has 1241 passing yards this year and 14 TDs on 88 of 164 passing with 4 INTs. The Gophers are averaging 441.5 yards per game this year (271.1 on the ground). The Gophers are #1 in the Big Ten (by a large margin) in rushing offense, but they are last in passing offense.
The offensive line has done a good job, and it is led by two big senior tackles in LT Jeremiah Carter (6-7, 290) and RT Jake Kuppe (6-7, 350). The Buckeyes won't be facing many offensive linemen who can approach Kuppe's size. They are the lone returning starters from last year; two freshmen are slated to start in LB Mark Setterstrom (6-4, 270) and C Greg Eslinger (6-3, 250). Junior Joe Quinn is the right guard (6-4, 280). Abdul-Khaliq has been sacked just ten times so far.
Defensively, the Gophers were shaky in 2001, but the numbers are better this season. They rank #1 right now in the Big Ten in total defense (314.6 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (17 PPG). They also have 18 sacks this year so far, which is already four more than they had all of last year. A big reason for that is the freshman defensive end Charlton Keith (6-4, 219), an Ohio native (Akron Buchtel) who has totaled 7 sacks this season. Keith isn't listed as a starter though; those spots are manned by junior Paul Nixon (6-1, 221, Columbus Mifflin) and freshman Mark Losli (6-7, 264). At defensive tackle, the starter is 6-5, 278 junior Dan Kwapinski.
At nose tackle, you'll find a couple of familiar names. The starter is 6-3, 258 pound sophomore Darrell Reid, who had initially committed to Ohio State. However, things fell out between Reid and the Buckeyes, so he signed with the Gophers and is now a starter. He has 21 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 2 sacks this year. His back-up is an Ohioan in freshman Anthony Montgomery (from Cleveland JFK), who we were following during the recruiting season
At Will LB, there are a couple of players who will see time in starter Terrance Campbell (6-2, 200, Fr) and converted DB Justin Fraley (6-0, 205, So, another Ohioan, from Cleveland Benedictine). The starting Sam LB is junior Ben West, who is the team's leading tackler with 69, and sophomore Bradley Vance (6-1, 219) starts at Drop LB. In the secondary, you'll find some Ohioans at the starting positions as freshman Ken Williams (6-0, 165, Bedford HS) starts at CB, junior Justin Isom (5-8, 182, Huber Heights Wayne) starts at strong safety, and junior Eli Ward (6-0, 197, Akron Garfield) starts at free safety. The other starter is CB Ukee Dozier, a 6-1, 178 pound sophomore.
The kicker is senior Dan Nystrom, who is having another good season as he is 10-11 on Field Goals. The punter is Preston Gruening, who averages 40.9 yards per punt. Handling kick and punt returns are Antoine Burns and Columbus Brookhaven product Danny Upchurch (Fr., 5-10, 170, 241 yards in punt returns on 31 attempts).
On paper, this could be another slugfest. The weather is going to be cold and windy, and that's fitting for two teams who can pound the opposition with the run. Ohio State has done well so far this year with their run defense, and they'll have a challenge with this running game.
Minnesota has a quality football team, but overall, the question is whether or not they have what it takes to go on the road and win a game like this. This is a young team, and they will most likely not catch OSU sleeping like they did in 2000. They also are going up against a run defense that only allows 82.2 yards per game. A lot could depend on the health of this Buckeye team, particularly at tailback; most would agree that they are a better offense with Maurice Clarett in there, and if he's not at 100%, the game might stay closer than expected. With or without Clarett though, the Buckeyes should win this game. The Gophers will be pumped and had a week off to prepare, but but this might be too tall of a task for them.
- OSU's all-time record against Minnesota is 36-7, and the Gophers' win in 2000 was their only win in Columbus over the past 50 years. The Gophers have won their last two games against top ten teams though -- the 2000 game against OSU and the 1999 upset at Penn State.
- This game might seem bigger from the Gophers' perspective than OSU fans might think. The St. Paul Pioneer-Press wrote "One might have to go all the way back to the Rose Bowl years of 1960 and 1961 to find a game this meaningful and this ballyhooed this late in the season. And despite Mason's best efforts, these Gophers know it."
- The Gophers have several players from Ohio on their roster. In addition to the ones mentioned above, they have WR Keith Matthews (Akron Hoban), CB Trumaine Banks (Columbus Eastmoor), FS Quentin White (Gahanna Lincoln), QB Bryan Cupito (Cincinnati McNicholas), PK/P Kenny Harper (Hamilton), and WR Jared Ellerson (Copley). Maybe they somehow get their hands on copies of Ohio's Future Stars.