Ohio State handled business against Minnesota on Saturday, winning by an almost identical score as last week against Michigan State with a 37-3 win over the Golden Gophers. The goal for the Buckeyes was to get in, get a win and make sure nobody got hurt ahead of The Game next weekend. They were able to accomplish all of that, and with both Ohio State and Michigan sitting at 11-0, the biggest game of the 2023 college football season will be played a week from now in Ann Arbor.
Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from Ohio State’s win over Minnesota.
Ohio State’s run game has looked completely different since TreVeyon Henderson came back from his injury. It was another huge day for the Buckeyes’ lead running back against Minnesota, finishing the game with 146 yards rushing on just 15 carries with two touchdowns, including a long 75-yard TD run to begin the second half. Henderson has eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in four of his last five games with at least one score in each of his last seven games. RB1 is now averaging over 6.7 yards per carry on this season, and has been instrumental in keeping the offense on track.
There has been a lot of talk surrounding Jack Sawyer since he stepped foot on campus. The former five-star defensive end came to Ohio State as the No. 6 player in the country in the 2021 class, but hasn’t quite lived up to his recruiting rankings to this point. Coming into Saturday’s game with 2.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks on the year, Sawyer put together perhaps his best performance as a Buckeye against the Gophers. The edge rusher led the team with six tackles on the afternoon, tallying 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a QB hurry. His presence on the field was certainly noticeable, and Larry Johnson will hope to get more of the same from Sawyer moving forward.
The Rest of the Defense
While Sawyer put together one of the standout performances of the day, Ohio State’s defense as a whole was once again spectacular. The Silver Bullets held Minnesota to just 159 total yards — 70 rushing and 89 passing — while forcing two turnovers and holding the Gophers to 3-of-12 on third down. Jordan Hancock recorded an interception, his second of the season, while the Buckeyes racked up seven tackles for loss. OSU did all of this without Tommy Eichenberg and Mike Hall Jr., both of whom are likely to return next weekend against Michigan. If not for a long 54-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, Ohio State could have pitched a shutout.
Speaking of Eichenberg and Hall, it was nice for Ohio State to get through this game without losing anyone to injury. There were a couple scares at various points, with guard Matthew Jones heading to the locker room in the second quarter and Kyle McCord limping a bit after a sack to end of the first half, but both guys came back in the second half and looked no worse for wear. With Josh Proctor back in action on Saturday, Emeka Egbuka looking much healthier and both Eichenberg and Hall trending in the right direction, the Buckeyes should have their full compliment of playmakers for The Game outside of Lathan Ransom.
The Final Drive of the First Half
Ohio State’s offense kind of sputtered in the second quarter, with Kyle McCord missing a few throws and a handful of plays that didn’t work, but none of it was all that egregious. That was true at least until the final drive of the first half, when the Buckeyes got the ball back with just under two minutes left at their own 3-yard line. OSU was set to get the ball at half, but it provided a chance to perhaps practice the two-minute drill.
Instead, Ryan Day seemed to be stuck in between, and after Henderson picked up a first down out to the 21-yard line, Ohio State got called for a false start, followed by an incomplete pass and a three-yard gain by Cade Stover. McCord was sacked on third down as both teams went to the half, and the whole sequence seemed really ugly and discombobulated. It wasn’t the end of the world, but had McCord been seriously hurt on the sack or turned the ball over, it could have been a problem.
Red Zone Offense
Ohio State’s red zone offense wasn’t necessarily ‘bad’, as the Buckeyes still finished with 27 points in five trips inside the 20, and scored at least three points on each one of those chances, but some of those red zone issues that have plagued Ryan Day’s offense for years reared their ugly head on Saturday.
The scarlet and gray were forced to settle for a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter after a 21-yard pick-up by Emeka Egbuka had Ohio State at Minnesota’s 6-yard line. A two-yard run and two incomplete passes later, and the Buckeyes could only come away with three points. In the third quarter, OSU started a drive at the Gophers’ 29-yard line following an interception, and even though Henderson picked up 13 yards on the first play of the series to work the ball to the 16-yard line, again it was a two-yard run and two incomplete passes that led to another field goal try.
The Buckeyes have had issues punching it in from the red zone for large parts of the last three seasons under Ryan Day. For some reason, that part of the game seems to continue to allude him. Ohio State cannot afford to leave points on the table next weekend against Michigan, and will have to find a way to capitalize in the red zone with touchdowns instead of field goals when the opportunity presents itself.
As has been the case every single week that Parker Fleming has
stolen money from been employed by Ohio State, the special teams unit was below average. Sure, the Buckeyes made all three of their field goal attempts, but they were also called for holding on a punt that was fair caught anyway and let two punts bounce inside the five instead of fair catching the ball on those occasions. It was nothing that costed the Buckeyes too greatly at the end of the day, but I’m still extremely worried a special teams mistake will cost Ohio State a game against a better team where the margins are thinner — see: Michigan — and don’t understand why Fleming still has keycard access to the Woody.