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Defensive end Carter Coughlin will be Minnesota’s key against the Ohio State offense

One of the leaders for the Golden Gophers, Coughlin could have a big impact toward the Buckeyes’ rushing and passing plans.

Iowa v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Yesterday, we briefed the Minnesota Golden Gophers offense, with quarterback Zack Annexstad being declared my ‘X-factor’ on offense for this Saturday’s game. The Ohio State Buckeyes defense is good, and containing Annexstad will help limit the big play ability teams have had against the Scarlet and Gray. Even with an absolute unit in Daniel Faalele, a (very nice) 6-foot-9, 400-pound freshman, at offensive tackle, the Buckeyes can still get to the QB because they have defenders than can do just that.

Likewise, Minnesota has their own defensive weapons, and that could cause problems to the Ohio State offense, specifically in short down situations and passing plays that take a while to develop. Junior defensive end Carter Coughlin was the Gophers’ sack leader last year, and he’ll be an important piece to coach PJ Fleck’s game plan this week against the Buckeyes.

Already, Coughlin leads the team with five sacks through five games, and is tied with Iowa’s Anthony Nelson for most sacks in the Big Ten Conference. For those wondering, Dre’Mont Jones is right behind both of them with 4.5 sacks. Additionally, Coughlin has tallied a forced fumble, and is tied for team leader in tackles-for-loss (6.5). The Gophers, however, are not a team that sends the house after the QB. That’s good news for Ohio State, as this weekend’s contest won’t have a Penn State kind of approach, where the Nittany Lions brought everything but the kitchen sink against Dwayne Haskins and the OSU offense for most of the game. Even last week, Indiana was sending people through the line to pressure Haskins into making quick and/or errant throws—and it sorta worked in the first half.

As a team, Minnesota only has four different defenseman registering sacks. Coughlin is the only one that has recorded over 1.0 sacks. So, if you were a betting person, it’s safe to assume that if a sack were to occur this weekend for the Gophers, it’ll be Coughlin who’s responsible for it. He fights around the linemen, and weaves his way to the quarterback. Take a look at one of his sacks from last season.

By no stretch is Coughlin an optimal DE in the weight category. He’s only listed at 245 pounds, and compared to OSU’s defensive linemen, he’s underweight. For example, Chase Young is listed at 265 pounds and Jonathon Cooper is coming in at 257 pounds. The trade-off with Coughlin is that he’s a tad more shifty and speedy off the line. And that trade-off could be a difference maker against the OSU O-line, if they haven’t made any sizable improvements over the week.

The run game for Ohio State hasn’t been what we thought it’d be. With J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber in the backfield, that thunder and lighting combo seemed unbeatable—and unstoppable. Ever since Weber’s breakout performance in Week 1 versus Oregon State, the running attack hasn’t been producing those big, 250-yard days. Rutgers, the Week 2 opponent, was the last time the Buckeyes had over a 200-yard day on the ground. And it’s not like there’s a shortage of carries for the RBs. Last week against Indiana, the Buckeyes had 48 attempts on the ground and yielded just 154 yards of rushing. Granted, a big reason for not running the ball as effectively is because the passing game is getting all the attention. Haskins is coming off a near school record passing performance (455 yards), and in five games this season, the Buckeyes have passed for more than 340 yards.

Where Coughlin comes into this equation is on the run stopping. If the Bucks had issues running the ball before playing Minnesota, they’ll have problems running the ball against Minnesota. Coughlin’s speed will enable him to get past whoever is blocking him, and that will lead to the run being stopped—or worse, Haskins being pressured on the pass. Short downs were something Urban Meyer wanted his team to improve upon. Against Indiana, a foiled third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 turned the ball back over to the opponent. If OSU is thinking about running the ball up the middle on third-and-a-couple, Coughlin may be there to stop the run dead in its tracks.

The best way for Ohio State to avoid Coughlin on these short downs is to, well, not run the play toward him. Stretching the defense is a good way to pick up the yards you need, even though you’ll run a little bit more across the field to get there. Instead of Dobbins or Weber being handed the rock, we could see Tate Martell enter the game and play calling shades of the Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett years: the QB read option.

While Minnesota hasn’t won a conference game yet this season, they are 3-2 and did some things right in losses to Maryland and Iowa. On Monday, Meyer talked a little about the Gophers defense at his weekly press conference, and noted that “their defense is outstanding. They’re not a big pressure team, but they’ve got a great pass rusher No. 45. Excellent player.”

For those wondering: That No. 45 mentioned is Coughlin. Will the Gophers’ get their first win against Ohio State since 2000 this Saturday? Not likely. But, can Coughlin cause enough havoc toward the offense, to the point we’ll be talking about it after the game? I think so. Minnesota might be able to hold the Buckeye offense for a quarter, maybe a half if the senior secondary of Antonio Shenault and Jacob Huff hold the fort down against the wideouts.

Either way, it should be an interesting noon kickoff in Columbus.