Turnovers Key To Buckeye Victory

Going into Saturday's Big Ten opener against Minnesota, one of the key indicators for the game was sure to be the turnover battle, as Minnesota had entered fourth in the nation in turnover margin. That wouldn't last, however, as the Buckeye defense scored 17 points off three turnovers on the way to the comfortable win.

What did Tavious Polo, Larry English and David Bryant have in common before today?

They were the only players to have a hand in the two turnovers by the Minnesota Golden Gophers in four games before Saturday. Polo, of Florida Atlantic, intercepted Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber last week, while Bryant forced a fumble that was recovered by his Northern Illinois teammate English during the opening week of the season.

Now, Ohio State defenders Donald Washington, Anderson Russell and Ross Homan can be added to the list.

Washington intercepted Weber during the first half, then Russell forced and recovered a fumble that led to the game's decisive score and Homan jumped on a third-quarter loose ball to give Ohio State three forced turnovers on the day. With the Buckeyes losing the ball just once on the day, Ohio State escaped with a plus-2 turnover margin against a team that entered the game fourth in the nation in turnover margin at plus-11.

That pro-Buckeye turnover margin was one reason No. 14 Ohio State was able to improve to 4-1 and open Big Ten play with a 34-21 win over the Golden Gophers (4-1, 0-1) Saturday in Ohio Stadium.

"It's just something we always emphasize in practice and everything we talk about," Russell said. "Our job is really to get the ball back to the offense. We were able to do that today."

Things looked like they might continue in Minnesota's favor, though, when Chris Wells fumbled on Ohio State's second possession of the game. The Buckeye defense stiffened, though, and Minnesota was forced to settle for a field goal that cut Ohio State's lead to four and 7-3.

From there, the bouncing balls went the way of the scarlet and gray. Minnesota was driving on its first drive of the second quarter, reaching the Buckeye 37-yard line, before Weber tossed a wayward pass to the right that Donald Washington picked off at the 14. He raced 34 yards down the sideline to get the ball to the Ohio State 48.

"It was just a play where the D-line got great pressure," Washington said. "He wasn't able to step into his throw and I got a good break on it."

Eight plays later, Ryan Pretorius sent a field goal through the uprights from 44 yards and Ohio State led 13-3.

The true crushing blow came on the Golden Gophers' next possession, however. On a third-and-7 play from Minnesota's 23, Weber hit tight end Jack Simmons for first-down yardage. Simmons was stood up at the 35-yard line, though, and Ohio State began to signal that the ball had been forced loose.

When the pile was thinned, Russell was the one holding the football.

"It was weird because we had the guy stopped, like his forward momentum stopped, and then I think one of his teammates might have hit him from behind and kind of like pushed the pile forward," Russell said. "I guess that's why they didn't blow the whistle. He was kind of like bobbling the ball from when he caught it, and then Kurt (Coleman) came in there. I'm not really sure who knocked it loose."

Russell was given credit for both the force and recovery, though Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster was not amused. He took a timeout and challenged the play, but the ruling stood.

Afterward, Brewster showed his clear displeasure at the call.

"That was a big play in the football game," he said. "I wouldn't have challenged it if I hadn't felt very strongly about the play."

Brewster felt worse four plays later when Terrelle Pryor lofted an 8-yard fade pass to the corner of the end zone that Brian Robiskie hauled in to give Ohio State a 20-3 lead with 33 seconds left on the first-half clock.

"It was definitely a huge play for us," Russell said of his fumble recovery. "We got the ball on the plus side of the 50."

Homan finished off the turnover parade when he scooped up a loose option pitch by Weber with 31 seconds to go in the third quarter to give the Buckeyes the ball at Minnesota's 25-yard line.

"Any time you see the ball on the ground, you're going for it," Homan said.

Ohio State made it 17 points off turnovers on the day two plays later when Todd Boeckman hit Robiskie for a 31-yard scoring pass.

At that point, Ohio State had built a 34-6 lead and would cruise home from there, while Minnesota had accumulated just 124 yards of total offense. Part of their struggles, of course, stemmed from the Golden Gophers' inability to hold on to the football.

"Any time you can force turnovers, that will kill an offense," Washington said. "That was huge for our defense."

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