The No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes walked off the field at Ohio Stadium today with a victory, 30-14, but a porous defense and shaky offensive line raised a lot of questions that the OSU coaching staff will need to correct before the Buckeyes face the more challenging portion of the B1G schedule.
Even though the Buckeyes didn’t pile on a ton of points as we’ve come to expect, Dwayne Haskins had another big day in the air. Connecting on 33-of-44 passes, the Dwayne Train rolled onward with a 412-yard day. Haskins also threw three scores—two to K.J. Hill, and one to Terry McLaurin.
Speaking of Hill, the Buckeye wideout led all receivers on the field in reception yards. He hauled in nine passes from Haskins for 187 yards. Early on Hill was going to be a factor, as he brought down a catch for 42 yards on the Buckeyes’ first drive of the game. Hill may have been the runaway leader in receiving, but in total catches, Parris Campbell was right behind him with eight—and recorded 56 yards on those eight receptions.
Saturday’s game was seen as a chance for the OSU running game to improve. That didn’t really come to fruition, as the Buckeyes only picked up 92 yards on 32 carries. Mike Weber led the day for rushers, going for 51 yards on 13 touches. J.K. Dobbins had his fair share of chances, too. He picked up 35 yards on 10 opportunities. However, short down situations were a struggle. Weber barely reached the first down marker on a fourth-and-short, and on another fourth down attempt, Dobbins was stopped at the line.
Defensive struggles also continued this week for the Scarlet and Gray. In the air and on the ground, big plays were given up. Freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad threw for 218 yards on 13-of-23 passing, but also threw two interceptions. Nonetheless, he had five completions that went beyond 15 yards. Tyler Johnson was his go-to WR; Johnson led the visitors with 119 yards on eight hauls, but had a costly fumble in the second quarter.
On the ground, there were also five plays that were considered “chunk” rushes, with three of them going 20 yards or more. Mohamed Ibrahim was a wrecking ball for the Gophers, going off for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts.
Before the game even started, there were some late changes to the depth chart. For the Buckeyes, linebacker Malik Harrison and defensive lineman Jonathon Cooper didn’t suit up; and for the Gophers, DT O.J. Smith and defensive back Terrell Smith were both scratched from the noontime game.
Ohio State won the toss and elected to defer meaning that Minnesota started off with the ball. Their first two plays involved moving the first down sticks, and the visitors were sitting in OSU territory. On play four though, the Gophers goofed. Zack Annexstad went deep downfield, but was intercepted by Kendall Sheffield at the OSU13.
Minnesota made things somewhat tricky for the Bucks. OSU almost three-and-outed their first drive, but Haskins found Austin Mack for an 11-yard gain. Later on the drive, the QB launched a 42-yard completion to K.J. Hill down the near sideline— past two defenders who appeared to lose sight of the ball/Hill’s spot on the field. Down at the MINN9, the Buckeyes couldn’t move the ball effectively. Dobbins had a 4-yard carry, but Haskins followed it up with a fumble (but he recovered) and an incompletion. The Buckeyes settled for a field goal from 21 yards out, taking the early lead at 3-0.
Defensive efficiency came back to haunt the Buckeyes. The Golden Gophers worked an 11-play, 75-yard drive for a go-ahead touchdown thanks to a steady stream of rushes from Mohamed Ibrahim and passes from Annexstad.
Now down 7-3, OSU went down the field to get their lead back— and nearly turned the ball over on downs in the process. After a facemask penalty on Minnesota spotted the Buckeyes a spot near midfield, two completions to Johnnie Dixon and a stuffed rush by Haskins put the Bucks at fourth-and-2. Urban Meyer and the staff decided to go for it, giving the ball to Weber on a stretch. It appeared that Weber was short, but the refs didn’t review the play, nor did Gopher coach P.J. Fleck break out the challenge flag.
With a very good spot, the Buckeyes got a new set of downs, and made the Gophers pay for it immediately. On the first play after the first down, Haskins found Terry McLaurin 41 yards in the end zone. McLaurin had a step on the defender, and now, OSU had a step on the Gophers, 10-7.
At this point, you’d believe that Ohio State would sprint away from those pesky Gophers, right? Well, just like in “Caddyshack,” the Fleck-led Gophers tunneled their way back into the land of touchdowns.
On the way there, they showcased (again) the holes in the Buckeye defense. Wide receiver Tyler Johnson shook Isaiah Pryor’s ankles into a different dimension en route to a 29-yard pickup. Then, when the second quarter started, Shaun Wade was called for defensive pass interference on a third-and-10. The drive should’ve ended, but the penalty gave Minnesota a new set of downs. A couple more completions to Johnson for first downs moved Minnesota down into the goal line. Not much more work was needed, as Ibrahim punched the ball in from three yards out.
Facing a deficit for the second time on the day, the Buckeye offense went back to work. And the work again included fourth down plays. Even with the help and momentum of Gopher defensive back Coney Durr getting ejected for targeting, the Buckeyes’ drive nearly flatlined at the MINN32. Luckily, K.J. Hill made an extraordinary grab on the sideline with DB Antonio Shenault draped all over him.
Moving into the red zone, Isaiah Prince was called for being an ineligible player downfield—and that proved costly. OSU couldn’t regain the yards after being placed at a first-and-15, and were now faced with a fourth-and-1 from the Gopher 17. After a game of alternating timeouts, the play dialed up by the OSU braintrust was a rush up the middle to Dobbins. That would be a good play, however, defensive end Carter Coughlin busted through the line and swallowed Dobbins in the backfield.
Things weren’t going the Buckeyes way, and that would continue for at least the next few plays. After the stop of OSU on fourth down, Ibrahim went right up the middle— then toward the sideline— for a 34-yard pickup. The Gophers were on the move, and looked to continue right until Tyler Johnson fumbled the football at the OSU24.
The fumble recovery by Jeffrey Okudah gave momentum back to the Buckeyes, and they needed it. After facing another near catastrophe on third-and-2, OSU dialed up three-straight first down plays, and on the fourth, Haskins connected with an open Hill, who snagged the ball with one hand, before sprinting to the end zone for the leading score. That 36-yard score would be the last of the half, and for Ohio State, would keep their head above water against the Gophers, 17-14.
Here are some of the first half stats.
Excitement was not on tap in the third quarter. Only one score was accomplished: a 47-yard FG by Blake Haubeil, who netted his second kick of the day in the absence of Sean Nuernberger. For those wondering: Nuernberger was recovering from an injury, as told by the Fox broadcasters.
Minnesota had a chance for a field goal too, but it went a tad right. That drive was a momentum killer for the Gophers, as they moved all the way to the OSU14, but couldn’t get points.
Both teams had underwhelming third quarter performances. Ohio State had just 48 yards in the frame, while Minnesota had 84 on 13 plays. This could be attributed to the Gophers burning over six minutes of clock on one drive, but with the way that this game was going, it was a sloppy performance by both Big Ten programs.
Ohio State began the fourth quarter with the ball, but old habits came back. Prince was called for a false start, but Haskins was able to guide the offense to the first-down marker via the air. The Buckeyes got all the way down to the 5-yard line before Parris Campbell lost four yards on a screen. An incompletion by Haskins in the end zone brought out the field goal unit, and once again, Haubeil connected from 27 yards, putting OSU up 23-14.
Now desperate, Minnesota reached into the bag of tricks. A flea flicker went to Bryce Witham for 41 yards and put the visitors in very good position for a score. Annexstad then went for the money downfield to an open WR. however, he under threw the ball—leading to an interception.
That would be the ball game, as Ohio State would score one more touchdown to put the game away 30-14.
Next up for OSU: the Purdue Boilermakers. It’ll be a primetime (7:30 p.m. ET) game in West Lafayette, with ABC broadcasting the game.