Ohio State wraps up their 2023 home schedule on Saturday when they host the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Buckeyes have dominated the series with Minnesota, posting a 46-7 record against the Golden Gophers.
Ohio State has won 11-straight games against Minnesota, and 27 of the last 28 meetings. The only win by the Golden Gophers during that span came in 2000 when they beat the Buckeyes 29-17 in Columbus. The last meeting between the schools came at the beginning of the 2021 season, with Ohio State winning 45-31 in Minneapolis.
An impressive performance last week
After dominating Michigan State from start to finish on Saturday night, the Buckeyes will be looking to do the same to Minnesota this week. Ohio State scored touchdowns on their first three drives to open up a 21-0 lead on the Spartans early in the second quarter. Marvin Harrison Jr. scored all three of those touchdowns for the Buckeyes, with the first of those scores being a rushing touchdown before hauling in two touchdown passes from Kyle McCord.
Harrison continued his assault on the Ohio State record books, becoming the first Buckeye receiver to amass at least 1,000 yards receiving in two different seasons. After finishing last season with 1,263 yards receiving, Harrison now has 1,063 yards receiving this year. With his 149 yards in the win over Michigan State, Harrison’s 14 career 100-yard receiving games has tied David Boston for most in school history.
Along with Harrison, a heavy target for Kyle McCord against the Spartans was tight end Cade Stover, who returned to the field after missing the game against Rutgers. Stover tied a career-high with seven receptions, finishing with 79 yards and a touchdown. Stover now has caught 75 passes in his Ohio State career, moving past Cedric Saunders and Dave Ellis last week for third-most in school history.
Throwing the football to Harrison and Stover last week was Kyle McCord, who posted a career-high 335 yards passing. Unlike previous games where McCord was inconsistent at times with his throws, against the Spartans he was on with the majority of his throws, only missing on seven of his 31 pass attempts. Heading into this week’s contest, McCord has thrown for 2,687 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just four interceptions.
While TreVeyon Henderson didn’t roll up as much yardage as he did in the previous two games, the junior running back still averaged nearly five yards per carry against Michigan State. With the Buckeyes jumping out to such a big lead early on, Henderson only carried the football 13 times, finishing with 63 yards and a touchdown. Henderson has now found the end zone at least once in each of the last six games he has played in. Since Henderson returned from injury, Ohio State has averaged over 30 yards more per game on the ground over the last three contests.
When the offense is cooking like they did last week, the Buckeyes are almost impossible to beat since the defense has been one of the best in the country all year. Overall, Ohio State is fourth in college football, allowing just 262.2 yards per game, and they are second in the FBS, giving up just 9.9 points per game. The Buckeyes have been especially tough against the run, not allowing a rushing touchdown in five straight games. For the season, Ohio State has given up just three rushing touchdowns.
The defense was a bit shorthanded last week, since both Lathan Ransom and Tommy Eichenberg didn’t play against Michigan State. Ransom has been ruled out for at least the rest of the regular season, and it’s unknown if he’ll be able to play in a bowl game. The prognosis for Eichenberg is a little brighter, as Ohio State likely held him out as a precaution to make sure he is as healthy as possible for the Michigan game in a couple weeks.
Even though Ransom wasn’t able to play against Michigan State, the pass defense of the Buckeyes was in top form, allowing just 88 yards passing to the Spartans. After missing the Rutgers game, Denzel Burke was back in the lineup last week. The star cornerback leads Ohio State with nine pass breakups. Along with Burke, Jordan Hancock has been playing with a ton of confidence, while freshman Jermaine Mathews Jr. has seen valuable playing time as the season has gone on.
What has helped Ohio State still be dominant without Ransom in the lineup has been the tremendous depth they have at safety. Sonny Styles had a great game against Michigan State, adding even more highlights to his fabulous sophomore season. To balance the youth of Styles, veteran Josh Proctor continues to be a steadying force at safety for the Buckeyes, coming up with big plays in key spots.
At the other end of the defense, Tyleik Williams has been terrifying opposing offenses all year long. Williams leads Ohio State’s defensive linemen with 41 tackles, and has registered 9.5 tackles for loss this season, which is a team-high. The defensive tackle has three sacks on the season, which is just a sack behind J.T. Tuimoloau for the team lead. It’s frightening to think of just how good the Ohio State defense could be if Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer were more constant sources of pressure on the defensive line.
Minnesota at a glance
Minnesota enters Saturday afternoon’s game on a two-game losing streak. The most recent of those setbacks came last week in West Lafayette, with the Golden Gophers falling 49-30 to Purdue. The loss kept former Ohio State graduate assistant P.J. Fleck from notching his 50th win as Minnesota’s head coach. Even though he didn’t record his 50th win, Fleck is still fifth in wins in school history.
The Golden Gophers have had little success against teams ranked in the AP top-three, posting a 8-32 record, with their last win coming in 1999 against Penn State. Along with their struggles against top-three teams, Minnesota also has lost six straight games in Columbus, which is their longest active road losing streak against one team.
Goldy’s Gophers on offense
Despite their recent losses, quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis has been playing some of his best football since becoming the starter for the Golden Gophers. Last week against Purdue, Kaliakmanis threw for a career-high 292 yards, and over the last two games he has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions. So far this year Kaliakmanis has completed 129 of 247 passes for 1,582 yards, 13 touchdown passes, seven interceptions, two rushing touchdowns.
Kaliakmanis’ preferred target so far this year has been Daniel Jackson, who has hauled in 45 passes for 681 yards, and seven scores. Along with Jackson, Corey Crooms and tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford have also caught at least 20 passes this season. Chris Autman-Bell is back for his seventh season after he was injured early last season. The veteran has seen limited playing time this year, but it still someone the Ohio State defense will have to keep tabs on.
One thing Minnesota has done really well over the years is churn out running backs. Since 2021, seven Golden Gopher running backs have rushed for 100 yards in a game, and Minnesota has 26 100-yard games during that span. True freshman Darius Taylor looks like the next Minnesota running back that is going to have a great career. Despite missing five games with a rib injury, Taylor is still ninth in the Big Ten with 591 yards rushing.
With Taylor sidelined for the last three games, Jordan Nubin has stepped in. Three weeks ago against Michigan State, Nubin had a massive performance, carrying the football 40 times for 204 yards. Nubin is second on the team with 393 yards rushing, while Sean Tyler and Zach Evans have each rushed for over 200 yards so far this season. Tyler transferred to Minnesota from Western Michigan, while Evans is just a redshirt freshman.
Rowing the defense
The star of the Minnesota defense so far this year has been Tyler Nubin, who has four interceptions. This type of production is nothing new for Nubin, who has 12 career picks, which is tied for the most in school history. The senior defensive back is second on the team with 49 tackles, and his two interceptions in the season opener were a huge reason why the Golden Gophers were able to squeak by Nebraska 13-10. Rounding out the secondary are cornerbacks Justin Walley, Tre’Von Jones, and safety Darius Green. The quartet have started all 10 games this year at the backend of the Minnesota defense.
Leading the Golden Gophers in tackles is Maverick Baranowski, who has 52 stops so far this season. What has been so impressive about the play from Baranowski this year is he is just a redshirt freshman. Teaming with Baranowski at linebacker are Devon Williams and Jack Henderson, who each have over 40 tackles this season. Henderson has made some plays in pass defense, intercepting two passes this season.
There’s no question who is the most impactful defensive lineman for Minnesota. Danny Striggow has six sacks so far this season, which is most on the team. The senior has a sack in three of the last four games, and the next half sack will give him double digit sacks for his career. Along with Striggow, Jah Joyner, Jalen Logan-Redding, and Kyler Baugh all have at least two sacks this season. As a team, the Golden Gophers are averaging over two sacks per game.
Ohio State will want this game to look exactly like last week’s game against Michigan State. In a perfect world, the Buckeyes would jump out to a big lead, which would allow Ryan Day to pull his key players ahead of next week’s game at Michigan. The Buckeyes can’t afford to lose anyone for the game against the Wolverines. It’s a fine line though, since they are some players Day needs to get some playing time this week to get them ready for the Michigan game.
One of those players is Emeka Egbuka, who hasn’t done a lot since returning from injury. While Egbuka hasn’t had to do a ton since Marvin Harrison Jr. was so good last week, the Ohio State offense is even tougher to slow down when both Egbuka and Harrison are at the top of their game. Add in Cade Stover and the emerging Carnell Tate and it takes a lot of pressure off of Kyle McCord, who is coming off his best game as starting quarterback.
The Buckeyes can’t just assume Minnesota is going to roll over, though. The Golden Gophers are a team that plays with a lot of pride and toughness. The problem for P.J. Fleck is he doesn’t have the offensive arsenal to keep pace with Ohio State. What Fleck has to hope his team can do is control the clock with their running game, keeping the football out of the hands of McCord and the Buckeye offense.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, running the football is exactly what Ohio State wants you to do since they are so good as stopping the run. If the Buckeyes are able to stop the rushing attack of the Golden Gophers, it forces Athan Kaliakmanis to throw the football more, and even though he has been better over the last couple games, he has been turnover-prone. It feels like there is just no good way for this overmatched Minnesota offense to try and attack Ohio State.
Since this will be the final home game of the season for Ohio State, expect the Buckeyes to have little trouble in this game. Minnesota is struggling, losing their last two games, while Ohio State has momentum after their strong play last week. The Buckeyes know they are on a collision course with Michigan. For some teams this could be a look-ahead spot. Not for the Buckeyes, as they handle their business to stay undefeated this year.