Coming off of a bye week that was filled with the news of quarterback J.T. Barrett being suspended, Ohio State was able to keep focus and laser in on their first opponent in two weeks. The Golden Gophers had some of their own troubles, as head coach Jerry Kill resigned due to health reasons.
It took the Buckeyes much of the first half to get anything going against Minnesota. A scoreless first quarter left most fans frustrated with the offensive play and struggles of Cardale Jones for the start of the game. It wasn't until late in the second quarter, when Vonn Bell picked off a pass and took it all the way for a pick six. A few plays later, Ezekiel Elliott swiveled his way into the endzone to put the Buckeyes up 14-0 before halftime.
The second half didn't have many more fireworks. Jones would find Michael Thomas in the endzone on a pretty throw in the third quarter, but that would be the only scoring for the rest of the quarter for the Buckeyes. Minnesota was finally able to get on the scoreboard after converting a fourth down before pushing into the endzone. The Golden Gophers weren't quite ready to give up the fight, as they scored with less than three minutes left to cut the lead to one touchdown. Cardale Jones would then rush right up the middle with just under two minutes remaining to push the lead back up two scores.
Here are three things we learned from Ohio State's 28-14 win.
3 things we learned:
1. Cardale played fine, but J.T. Barrett is almost assuredly still the starting quarterback. Cardale Jones played solid all things considered on Saturday night. The Buckeyes rolled past Minnesota, as Jones found some confidence with a touchdown throw to Michael Thomas in the third quarter to put Ohio State up 21-0. Still, there isn't much of a quarterback controversy that the Buckeyes should have to worry about. When you look at the big picture, Jones struggled for much of the first half - if not all of it. Whether it was the play calling, Jones' throws being off the mark, or not having enough time to throw, it was clear the offense was having trouble operating at a high level with him at quarterback. Jones finished the night 12-of-22 passing for 187 yards and one touchdown, also adding 65 yards rushing on 12 carries.
While Barrett served his one-game suspension against the Golden Gophers, he'll likely be the starter once the Buckeyes travel to Champaign next week to face off against Illinois. Should the coaching staff decide not to play Barrett, however, it seems Jones might have found some sort of confidence against a Minnesota defense that is fairly solid overall and he could continue to run the show if need be against the Illini.
2. Ezekiel Elliott keeps on rolling. Elliott may have only had 55 yards at halftime, but his rushing touchdown in the second quarter (his 14th of the season) was the only offensive score of the first half for Ohio State. He would finish with 26 carries, 114 yards and a touchdown against the Golden Gophers.
Ohio State has a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in Elliott, and depending on how other candidates such as Leonard Fournette do, he has a serious shot at winning it. With Trevone Boykin throwing for multiple interceptions and his team getting blown out by Oklahoma State, he might have been knocked out of the race for the Heisman. Fournette had his hands full with Alabama's defense on Saturday night, but is still likely the front runner.
Still, with the Tigers losing and the Buckeyes winning, it's possible that the Heisman race is wide open. Elliott is arguably the best player on one of the best teams, and that alone gives him a shot.
3. The Silver Bullets continue to do the heavy lifting. The Ohio State defense has come up in the moments the team needs it to the most. On Saturday night, Vonn Bell was the one that sparked the Buckeyes by intercepting a Minnesota pass and returning it all the way for a touchdown. It was the first score of the night by Ohio State and helped light a fire for the Buckeyes, who seemed to be headed for an entire scoreless first half. Instead, Bell's pick six turned things around, and as a result, the offense was also able to feed Ezekiel Elliott to add to the lead.
But Bell's interception is just one example of the impact the defense has had. With Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, and the rest of the defensive unit, Ohio State has one of the top defenses in the country. Once the offense is finally rolling on all cylinders, the Buckeyes are going to be even more difficult to beat.