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Three Things To Watch vs. Minnesota

Ohio State looks to send their seniors out on a winning note against the visiting Golden Gophers

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

One more home game in 2023 for the Ohio State Buckeyes before the coaches and players turn all of their focus towards The Game. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are making their first trip into Ohio Stadium since the 2018 season, when Urban Meyer was still the head coach of the Buckeyes, and Ohio State won, 30-14.

Senior day is always an understandably emotional affair, when players are given a final opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of Ohio Stadium for one more time. Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has a special attachment to these seniors, as these players were on the roster when Day took over as Ohio State’s head coach after Meyer.

While respecting the emotional significance of the last home game for the seniors, Ryan Day also has to weigh the importance of keeping players healthy. The Buckeyes are dealing with players such as Miyan Williams and Lathan Ransom out due to injury, and cannot afford to lose any starters with The Game looming.

For that reason, I believe the strategy by the coaching staff will mirror a great deal of what the Buckeyes did last week versus Michigan State — getting a lead, then playing the backups significantly in the second half of the game against Minnesota.

Below are Three Things To Watch versus Minnesota, as the game will kick off at 4:00 p.m. ET on The Big Ten Network. For those of you going, it looks like a pretty decent weather forecast in the high 40s and sunny, but it will certainly be chilly by the time this game concludes.

  1. The Minnesota running game vs. the Ohio State run defense

As Michael Citro and I discussed on our latest Silver Bullets Podcast, Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis is completing a little better than 50 percent of his passes. This Minnesota offense, when it has been effective, has usually relied upon its offensive line and running game to control the clock and wear down their opposition.

Tommy Eichenberg has been the heart and soul of the Ohio State defense over the past two seasons, but it would not surprise me if Ohio State tries to limit Eichenberg’s play, knowing that a very physical contest against the Wolverines is only a week away. Look for Cody Simon to get substantial opportunities manning a linebacker spot, trying to slow down a Minnesota running game that features sophomore running back Jordan Nubin.

Listed at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, Nubin is coming off a game that saw him carry the ball 16 times for 89 yards. On the season, Nubin has rushed for 393 yards and two touchdowns.

2. Will this be another opportunity to showcase “The X-Man”?

Xavier Johnson is one of those aforementioned seniors who will be playing in front of the home crowd for the last time against Minnesota. Johnson’s versatility as both a receiver and runner provide the Ohio State offense with options on how to use him, and Johnson was well-used last week against Michigan State, with one reception for 31 yards and four carries for 40 yards.

Considering how Emeka Egbuka is not at 100% health, and how important it will be to keep Marvin Harrison Jr. healthy for the game in Ann Arbor, could “the X-Man” get a chance to dazzle the home fans one more time? Johnson is just one of several talented players on the Ohio State roster who may see significant playing time against Minnesota.

3. Can Ohio State have another “fast start” game?

Throughout the 2023 season, Ohio State fans have become exasperated with the Buckeyes seemingly being unable to get out to a fast start against their opponents. The Buckeyes had no problems with that last week against Michigan State, and perhaps they will have a similar fast start against a Minnesota team that is coming off a dispiriting 49-30 loss at Purdue.

Minnesota sits at 5-5, knowing that bowl eligibility is a legitimate question with only two weeks remaining in the regular season. Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck will do his best to slow the game down for the Golden Gophers, but Ohio State should have too much on both sides of the ball for Minnesota to make this much of a game beyond the first half.

I have it Ohio State 42, Minnesota 14.