Ohio State did what it needed to do last weekend and upset a top 10 Michigan State team at home to secure sole possession of the Big Ten East division. Now, ranked No. 8 in the country, the Buckeyes look to keep their winning ways rolling against a Minnesota team that is ranked No. 25 in the latest College Football Playoff poll. Ohio State hasn't played the Golden Gophers since the 2010 season, where the Buckeyes crushed Minnesota 52-10 in a win that was later vacated due to sanctions from the NCAA. Still, this team shouldn't have too much trouble putting away Jerry Kill's team, provided they play up to the level they're capable of.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is having one of their better seasons of the past few years. The Golden Gophers are 7-2 (4-1 in the Big Ten) and as mentioned above, ranked in the College Football Playoff poll, despite having a loss at home to a horrendous Illinois team. Still, the Gophers have put themselves in position to compete for a spot in the Big Ten championship, with games against Big Ten West opponents Nebraska and Wisconsin still lingering on the final games of their schedule.
With a big game for both teams, we give you five things to look for on Saturday afternoon:
Running to victory
It's going to be extremely cold on Saturday when Ohio State takes on Minnesota. Freezing temperatures are expected, and the Minnesota Vikings are even providing heated benches for the Buckeyes sideline because of the weather. Because of this, don't expect J.T. Barrett and the passing attack to go crazy with putting the ball in the air. You'll still see balanced play calling, but there's no need to force any throws when you have Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, who's plenty capable of shouldering the load for an afternoon.
Elliott has rushed for 863 yards and seven touchdowns on 149 carries this season and should expect to see a slight increase in carries tomorrow against the Gophers. Jerry Kill's squad is also a solid defensive team, statistically speaking, so Elliott will have to be sharp when handling the ball. Expect for Ohio State to use more of Curtis Samuel in efforts to not wear Elliott out as well.
Cobb a formidable runner
In case you haven't yet heard of Minnesota running back David Cobb, you might want to do some more reading. So far this season, Cobb has carried the ball 227 times and has rushed for 1,205 yards to go with eight touchdowns. Because of these stats, Minnesota ranks 27th in the country in rushing offense, which is more than respectable.
Cobb's efforts on the ground have also allowed for Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner to run the football successfully as well, as the sophomore quarterback has rushed for 241 yards and six touchdowns on 69 carries. The Ohio State defense will have to be careful to not overcommit and allow Leidner any extra room to run. They'll have their hands full with Cobb enough as it is.
Joey Bosa returns
If you're like any other Ohio State fan, you might have been surprised about the lack of a statistical impact that sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa put out against Michigan State last week. Going head-to-head against one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten, Bosa was fairly quiet, but still provided plenty of pressure on Connor Cook to help secure an Ohio State win.
The Spartans were smart to keep Ohio State's defensive line contained for much of the night, opting for quick passes and plenty of screen and running back draw plays to keep the d-line guessing, along with double and sometimes triple teams. Against Minnesota, Bosa should be back to his terrifying ways and looking to get to the quarterback a couple of times while helping slow down Cobb's running ability.
Missing Dontre Wilson
Ohio State lost a key cog in their offensive system when Dontre Wilson was ruled out with a broken foot. Wilson, who is out for the remainder of the year, had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season. After a promising freshman campaign, many predicted Wilson to be one of the main threats on the offensive side of the ball, when in reality, Wilson has often been used as a decoy once more.
Despite some missed opportunities against Michigan State and other opponents where Wilson struggled to catch the ball, he's still an important part of the system that offensive coordinator Tom Herman runs, and the Buckeyes will miss him the rest of the way. For now, it's up to Jalin Marshall to fill in for Wilson and there's a chance we might see a new face on the field at some point (looking at you, Noah Brown), depending on what the coaching staff feels is necessary.
Offensive line showcasing their improvement
Even though the first half wasn't a thing of beauty, the second half proved what many have thought since the loss to Virginia Tech this season: the offensive line is, in fact, improving. While the Spartans bull-rushed the Buckeyes at times in the first half, the second half is when Ohio State made adjustments and tightened things up to help buy time for J.T. Barrett and open up holes for Ezekiel Elliott.
After taking so much criticism for the better part of the first half of the season, Ohio State's offensive line has already become a tight-knit group that continues to improve each game of the season. Facing off against the Spartans was another confidence boost to a unit that had already been reaching a competitive level. Now they'll get a chance to showcase their improvement with another solid performance against the Gophers.