Five Questions: Minnesota at OSU

When an improved bunch of Golden Gophers invade the Horseshoe this Saturday, the team that gets off to the better start could find itself with a significant advantage. We examine that, turnovers, the Minnesota spread offense and more in this week's Five Questions.

1. Can the Buckeyes get off to a faster start on offense?

Thirty-eight percent of Ohio State's 100 points on the season have come in the final quarter. Although it scored on the first drive last week, the offense has not exactly hummed early in games this season.

A fast start figures to be of the essence against Minnesota, a team that looks like it has a burgeoning confidence after already quadrupling its 2007 win total.

Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman noted that the Golden Gophers have a new swagger to them this year, and left tackle Alex Boone said that could make them more susceptible to folding early if the Buckeyes get off to a fast start.

"But at the same time, (confidence) makes them dangerous," Boone said. "This year they look dangerous. They look like a dangerous team. We know we're going to have to play at 100 percent this week."

"Hopefully we can just keep hitting them and they'll back down," Coleman added.

2. How will the Buckeyes handle this spread?

By now, defending a spread offense is nothing new for Ohio State, but the case can be made this will be the most balanced the Buckeyes have faced in a while.

The Golden Gophers enter the game averaging 241.8 yards per game through the air and get 162 on the ground.

They have an experienced quarterback (Adam Weber) with a reliable target (wide receiver Eric Decker) and two potentially dangerous running backs (DeLeon Eskridge and Shady Salamon).

Weber, a sophomore second-year starter who enters the game ranked 16th in the nation in pass efficiency and 30th in total offense, figures to be the key.

"He keeps plays alive with his feet," Coleman said. "He's always looking downfield to make the play and if everything fails, he will run the ball. He's an athletic QB, so we have to be able to wrap him up and get him down."

Weber had a respectable game against Ohio State last season when he completed 27 of 44 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown, although two interceptions were painful.

3. Which team will win the turnover battle?

Speaking of interceptions, turnovers figure to loom large in this contest. They were often the undoing of the Gophers and Weber last season and have been a key positive statistic this year.

Minnesota was minus-15 in turnovers last season, no small thanks to Weber, who threw 19 interceptions. This year, however, the Gophers are plus-11 (13 takeaways and two giveaways) and Weber has been intercepted just once.

"I think that's been a great recipe for success for us – taking care of the football and causing turnovers," Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster told reporters earlier this week while calling his defense opportunistic. "We've given up some plays, some explosive plays, but then we've been able to turn the ball over and get some great field position for the offense."

Coleman said turnovers are a big key for Ohio State every week.

"We have to be able to disrupt Adam because he's a smart QB now," Coleman said. "He's not in his first year anymore. Hopefully if we can get a couple turnovers and make him do some things that he doesn't want to do we can get this ‘W'." Ohio State enters the game with nine takeaways and six giveaways on the season.

4. What will Terrelle Pryor do for an encore?

The frosh was nearly impeccable in his first start at quarterback last week. Pryor completed 10 of 16 passes for 139 yards and four touchdowns. His one interception came on a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half, although he did have one other throw that should have been intercepted.

Pryor added 66 rushing yards on 14 carries and overall played a calm, efficient game.

"Every time more is demonstrated, more becomes expected of yourself and from others and all those kinds of things," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. Tuesday.

"It's going to get more difficult. People are going to come up with, ‘Okay, here's the things that he's demonstrated he does, now here's what we're going to do to combat that.' So, he's going to see something new each week and if he'll slow the game down, he'll understand it."

5. Can the running game take off?

Ohio State's running game has been infinitely average so far this season. The 163.5 yards per game ranked 56th in the country. Not bad, but not near the 208.9 yards the Buckeyes averaged per game during conference play last season.

Of course the drop this season can be linked partly to the absence of Chris Wells, who is expected to play this weekend.

Pryor's addition to the offense adds another running dimension as well in the form of options, called keepers and the occasional scramble.

The combination of the two should be fun to watch, especially if the offensive line can continue to progress.

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