Throughout the month of August, LGHL writers will be attempting to answer some of the most important questions about Ohio State’s 2021 football season. To catch up on all editions of LGHL Asks, click HERE.
LGHL Asks: What is Ohio State’s most dangerous game?
When Ohio State goes on the road to face Minnesota on September 2nd, they will be entering hostile territory — at least as hostile as a home to Golden Gophers can be… Then again, we are a bunch of poisonous nuts, so maybe I should reserve smack talk exclusively for what happens on the field. While P.J. Fleck and his team had a subpar 2020 season, they are only two years removed from an 11-2 record. In 2019, the team reached as high as eighth in the CFP rankings, and ended the season with an Outback Bowl victory over the SEC’s Auburn. Fleck and Co. will be looking to replicate that success in 2021.
I do not think Minnesota is destined for anything close to 11-2, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for last year’s pandemic season. Prior to last year, the Gophers had improved in each of Fleck’s three seasons and seemed to be a viable threat in the Big Ten West. Minnesota’s schedule may ultimately be too difficult to make a ton of noise this year (five games against current top-20 opponents), but the Buckeyes will be facing a real challenge when they visit TCG Bank Stadium. For a variety of reasons, the opening matchup against Minnesota is the most dangerous game on OSU’s schedule.
First games can be a crapshoot. Teams only scrimmage so many times, and get so many live reps, before stepping on the field against a real opponent. Ohio State has avoided any monumental upsets or real close calls during Week 1 recently, but plenty of other teams have suffered opening setbacks… just ask TTUN. In 2007, the Wolverines lost their first game of the season to FCS opponent Appalachian State. Since then, there have been countless others. First-game jitters are a real factor, even for the Buckeyes.
Making the challenge even more difficult this season, is the fact that OSU does not have the luxury of opening up against a non-conference, non-Power 5 team. While it has been common practice to schedule “cupcake” opponents in Week 1, the addition of extra conference games and the impetus placed on style points, has led to more high-profile Week 1 matchups. Ohio State vs. Minnesota does not have the same national appeal as Clemson vs. Georgia, but it should certainly get the attention of Buckeye fans. Keep in mind that this game is also being played on a Thursday night, which just adds another variable to the equation. This is not your basic Saturday nooner against Ball State.
Beyond dealing with the unique circumstances of the game itself, Ohio State will also be running out inexperienced players at certain key positions. This is not just the first game of the 2021 season, it will be the first start and first meaningful playing time for the new quarterback. C.J. Stroud is currently the leader in the clubhouse, but Ryan Day has said that he will continue to distribute snaps in practice. Whether it is Stroud, Jack Miller, or Kyle McCord (Quinn Ewers literally just stepped on campus, so settle down), the starting QB will be dealing with a lot of pressure. Unlike Dwayne Haskins or Justin Fields, the new Buckeye starter will (at best) have only taken a few snaps during garbage time, in front of no fans! For good reason, we have all the confidence in the world that Ryan Day will coach his new QB up, but it is not a foregone conclusion that he will go out there and light it up right away.
In addition to a new starting QB, the Buckeyes could potentially have a re-configured offensive line and inexperienced tight ends on the field. I think we’re fine there. I know I just finished raising concerns about a new QB, but the rest of the unit should make up for any rookie mistakes. The offensive line will have time to gel, and they possess a ton of talent and experience. They will create plenty of holes for the stable of running backs. Coach Day will protect the QB to a certain extent with his play calling, and let that offensive line and his great wide receivers impose their will on a subpar Golden Gopher defense. The Ohio State defense, on the other hand, is a different story.
The OSU defense was a problem in 2020… then they went and lost about 50 years of starting experience. The defensive line is an obvious strength, but every other position group has question marks. Each and every linebacker will be playing a pivotal role for the first time in their career(s). There will be fewer of them on the field, as the coaching staff plans to deploy the “Bullet” position. The secondary, which was borderline awful last season, will be replacing Shaun Wade and trying to figure out its rotation. I could go on and on, but the strengths of Minnesota need to be brought up. You get it: The Ohio State defense has real question marks, and the Golden Gophers have experienced personnel they will use to try and exploit perceived weaknesses.
While the Buckeyes have a clear talent advantage, their experience level is nowhere near that of the Golden Gophers. Minnesota’s experienced personnel on offense is the primary reason why I believe Ohio State’s opener will be its most dangerous game. Minnesota’s projected starting offense currently has nine redshirt seniors in the lineup… nine! A few of their top offensive linemen are even back for a sixth year, after taking advantage of the additional time provided as a result of the pandemic. Tanner Morgan is a former All-Big Ten QB, and Mohamed Ibrahim was an absolute stud last year, on his way Third-Team All-American recognition. If Morgan can return to his 2019 form, Minnesota may have an argument for the best QB/RB duo in the conference. The team’s best players are on offense, they bring a ton of experience to the field, and they will be going up against a very inexperienced unit on the other side.
I would not be surprised if the September 2nd opener turns into a shootout. In a shootout, especially one with inexperienced players, anything is possible. Add in the location and timing of the game, and I think there should be at least a low level of concern for this game. The Buckeyes play Oregon in Week 2, and while not the team of a few years ago, they are no pushover. Penn State is looking to rebound, and on paper, they have the second-most talented roster in the Big Ten. Indiana gave Ohio State a scare last year, and there is always the late-November walkthrough which occasionally turns competitive. As the season progresses, the Buckeyes will settle in, adapt, and improve. The sky is the limit for this team… which is why Minnesota catching them early, at home, with all of their experience, could make for a very intriguing game. Dangerous? Maybe a little bit. At the very least, it will likely be Ohio State’s most challenging and unique week (eh, few days) of preparation.
Are you concerned about Week 1 in Minnesota?
This poll is closed
Nope - cool as a cucumber
No more than any other conference game
Absolutely - RIP to my fingernails by September 2nd