On a below-freezing day in Minnesota, the Buckeyes were hoping to come away with a convincing win against a ranked opponent. Instead, they did their best to bury a brilliant individual performance by freshman phenom J.T. Barrett under a series of miscues straight out of a slapstick comedy. Turnovers kept this one a contest for much longer than it should have been, and prompted a memorable Urban Meyer interview heading into the locker room.
David Cobb came in for the Gophers as good as advertised. The Minnesota running back had a great day on the ground and gave the Buckeye run defense fits, accounting for all three of his team's touchdowns. Cobb finished the game with 145 yards on 27 carries. That's troublesome, looking ahead: Indiana is pretty much hot garbage, but Tevin Coleman is an outstanding tailback, and the defense will need to do a better job containing him than they did Cobb today. It's looking like the Buckeyes are on schedule to face Wisconsin eventually (though there's still a lot of football to be played), and with the laser show that Badgers tailback Melvin Gordon put on this weekend, there have to be some concerns going forward about the defense's ability to contain such a dynamic playmaker.
Well, a win is a win, right? Right ...? Let's take a look at who's up and who's down, now that the Buckeyes have put the Golden Gophers away.
Blue Chip Stocks:
J.T. Barrett, QB: Can we start talking about J.T. Barrett as a legitimate Heisman candidate without sounding like major homers yet? The Texas native, in his first college game played in frigid conditions, had a monster day that should get people across the country taking notice. Barrett's 189 yards on the ground were a school record for a QB. 86 of those yards came on a single play, with Barrett opening the scoring early on a play that showed off his ability to evade defenders in space.
Barrett looked shaky in the second quarter -- at one point he had five consecutive incompletions -- but he overcame those bad looks to put together a really complete game at the helm. Ohio State's do-it-all leader finished with 389 total yards and accounted for 4 touchdowns. It's time for the rest of the country to find out what we already know: J.T. Barrett is really good at this whole football thing.
Joey Bosa, DE: Despite not recording a sack last week in East Lansing, Joey Bosa still led the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for loss heading into Saturday's tilt in Minnesota. Safe to say that he built on that margin this weekend. Had Bosa spent any more time in the Gophers' backfield, he would have needed to start paying rent. The king of shrugs blew up a number of plays before they could even begin, bringing down Mitch Leidner and David Cobb without prejudice. I've already spent a number of words in this column stumping for J.T. Barrett as a legitimate Heisman candidate...but you could convince me that Bosa deserves to be on that podium too.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB: Elliott wasn't the Buckeyes' leading rusher on Saturday -- that honor went to J.T. Barrett -- but he quietly strung together a very nice day on the ground. Elliott finished with 91 yards on 18 carries, good for 5.1 yards a pop. Ohio State's throwback rusher provided a great change of pace between the tackles. Saturday showed that the Buckeyes can still tear it up in the running game without leaning too heavily on Elliott, which will force upcoming opponents to gameplan differently. It's also not a bad idea to give Elliott a breather once in awhile and save his legs for the final push this season. He's been a workhorse all year, and the team will need that come bowl (or playoff!) time.
Vonn Bell, DB: We have our first (positive) appearance by an Ohio State defensive back on the Stock Market Report this season! Save for a pass interference penalty, Bell had a fantastic day in coverage, pulling in an interception and recording several pass breakups. You could easily convince me that Bell's counterpart Doran Grant deserves to be here as well (he also had an INT and a few batted passes), but it feels like we heard Bell's name an awful lot on Saturday.
Jalin Marshall, H-Back: There's no way around this one. Marshall is an incredibly talented player with a bright future in Columbus, but today was one of the worst single performances by a Buckeye all season. Marshall did have the team's second touchdown, a 56-yard catch-and-run, and actually led the team in receiving yards, but those moments stood out far less than his huge mistakes on Saturday.
Marshall fumbled the ball away into the endzone on a play that would have put the team up big early, and possibly compounded the mistake by getting to the loose ball just after Evan Spencer--the extra contact might have helped the ball to scoot away and into Gopher hands. Marshall had a few questionable decisions on punt returns, and muffed one right into the arms of a Minnesota defender late in the game. When you're backed up that far, you have to let a ball like that go, and the young return man doubled down on mistakes at a crucial stage of the game. Marshall will undoubtedly learn from today (wipe those two mistakes away and we're talking about him as one of the best players on Saturday, with two scores), but his most recent performance will be one to forget.
BUY: Tom Herman playcalling. The offensive coordinator's genius was on display during what ended up being the most meaningful touchdown of the day -- a third down screen pass to Evan Spencer that he took to the house from 22 yards out. That score put the Buckeyes up 31-14, and though they bent, they did not break. Really, this was a perfect playcall from Herman, set to perfectly exploit a favorable matchup and an aggressive Minnesota front seven. Spencer had been a non-factor all afternoon, and his only grab of the day turned out to be the most important catch of the day.
SELL: Laundry on the field. This marked the second game in a row that things got sloppy for a team that has prided itself on discipline all season. The Buckeyes committed four penalties on the day to the tune of 49 yards, including a defensive pass interference call that negated a pick-6 that would have turned the game ugly early in the second half. I know four isn't a huge number, but the penalties that were committed did materially impact the game and keep Minnesota close enough to stay competitive.
BUY: Ohio State's pass defense. Really! Wherefore the maligned pass defense of September and October? Kerry Coombs seems to have gotten his defensive backs into form, and the schemes laid out by Luke Fickell and Chris Ash are starting play to this secondary's strengths. Minnesota is obviously a bad passing team, but the secondary made big plays in coverage all afternoon and avoided the big plays that have doomed them so often this year. They held Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner to 85 yards on 7-of-19 passing with two interceptions to show for it.