In it's first game of the 2015 season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers proved that last season was not a fluke, as they held the then-number two team in the country, the TCU Horned Frogs, to only two touchdowns and 23 points.
Subtract the Minnesota game, and the TCU offense has averaged 53 points per game. Unlike most teams that build their team from the inside-out, the Gophers have one of the best secondaries in the country, but only a decent front seven. TCU may have the best receiving corps in the country and Minnesota more than held their own.
I decided to go back to that game and chart what Minnesota did to stymie the high-octane TCU offense.
Here is TCU quarterback Trevon Boykin's passing chart versus Minnesota:
Minnesota defensive notes and observations:
- The secondary is Minnesota's strong suit. They kept Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin under wraps; he completed 26-of-42 passes for 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The secondary took away the deep ball, which many teams cannot do and I charted Boykin with only two completions over 15-plus yards on 11 attempts.
- Like the Buckeyes, Minnesota plays with specific field and boundary cornerbacks. Eric Murray mans the boundary side, while Briean Boddy-Calhoun plays the field side. Murray plays more physical man-to-man coverage and Boddy-Calhoun is the shiftier corner who plays the field but can also play the quicker slot receivers.
- Here is a good example of a typical alignment, with Murray lining up in press-coverage on the bottom of the screen and Boddy- Calhoun playing off, using his quickness to cover. The only problem here is, that TCU's Josh Doctson was at the top of the screen. He ran a five-yard in under the coverage and scored an easy touchdown.
- TCU is a tough match-up on the perimeter for any team, but both corners were targeted often on Boykin's right side and gave more cushion against the talented TCU receivers than they usually do. Doctson, who may be the nation's most lethal wide receiver, grabbed eight balls but he was limited to only 74 yards, his lowest yardage output this season.
- My guess: Murray mans up on Michael Thomas and Boddy-Calhoun sticks in the slot with either Jalin Marshall or Braxton Miller. This secondary will be the season's biggest test for the Buckeye receivers, who have not always been on the same page as Cardale Jones this season. With the deep ball basically non-existent for the Buckeyes, I would expect tighter coverage across the board vs Ohio State, than what they deployed against TCU.
- Minnesota is soft up front. TCU is a more finesse rushing team than Ohio State and the Horned Frogs' offensive line had no trouble pushing around the Gopher defensive line. The bigger, stronger and more talented Ohio State offensive line (compared to TCU) should have their way with the Minnesota defensive line. They primarily run a 4-3 without much variation.
- I charted only two pressures, two quarterback hits and one sack on Boykin's 46 drop backs. It should also be noted that Boykin possesses poor pocket presence and holds onto the ball longer than most quarterbacks, due to longer route combinations and his need to throw on the run or outside of the pocket.
- They do not blitz much and they expect their secondary to bend, but not break.
- Ezekiel Elliott should see lanes like this:
- Below, the only push that occurred on this play was the offensive line pushing the defensive line backwards for an easy gain on first down.
- In conclusion, look for the running game to set the tone early, using Ohio State's advantage in the trenches. This will force the Gophers to bring a safety up into the box and leave their two talented cornerbacks on islands. As I said earlier, I would expect Murray to be physical and press Thomas throughout the game, which could be Thomas' toughest match-up of the season, so far. Boykin had success in scramble situations, so it would not surprise me if Braxton Miller took on Barrett's former role as the de-facto red zone quarterback. Minnesota's secondary will present a challenge, but even without J.T. Barrett, Ohio State should be able to move the ball on the ground and through the air, with play-action.