P.J. Fleck called it “championship week” as his Gophers prepared to face third-ranked Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus. The Gophers were 29.5-point underdogs and throughout the week, coaches showed videos of famous upsets during meetings, including the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” game.
“They have to see those things,” Fleck said. “If that person can do it, that person can do it, that’s why you play a game…that doesn’t promise you anything, but it gives you a perspective.”
An upset felt far-fetched, but Minnesota went into a hostile road environment and competed with Ohio State. They trailed by one score in the fourth quarter without two starting cornerbacks, a safety, defensive tackle and two top running backs.
Two interceptions, a fumble and two missed field goals proved to be the difference in a 30-14 loss to the Buckeyes.
Gophers’ offensive line dominates, Ibrahim takes advantage
The Gophers’ offensive line dominated the trenches and allowed running back Mohamed Ibrahim to run at will against the Ohio State defense. He had 157 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns. His hard running style and sharp jump cuts in the second level helped him grind out yardage. Up front, Minnesota was winning 1-on-1 matchups and controlling the line of scrimmage. The tight ends were blocking the edge for numerous quality reps as well.
The coaches also mixed in some unbalanced sets with right tackle Daniel Faalele kicking over to the left side and helping to open big lanes in the running game. Each player on the unit had numerous positive blocks.
At one point, Ibrahim burst free for a 25-yard rush. It was a nice display of patience as Ibrahim waited for the hole to open. Center Jared Weyler also delivered a beautiful block to spark the run. Ibrahim’s rushing success helped fuel a 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive for the Gophers. Throughout the day, Minnesota ran bubble screens, pick plays and a nice blend of read-option to keep Ohio State off balance.
Gophers’ early play-calling pays dividends
Minnesota’s play-calling was strong and kept Ohio State on its heels. A 9-play, 75-yard scoring drive was fueled by the Gophers’ domination in the trenches. They controlled the line of scrimmage, but managed to complete two inside routes to Tyler Johnson, including a 29-yard strike to spark the drive. This is the type of offensive balance the Gophers’ offense has been unable to achieve because of an inconsistent rushing attack.
Annexstad was hitting Johnson throughout the game out of the slot. He was running a simple breaking-in route for more than 15 yards per reception. Ohio State’s secondary couldn’t handle Johnson’s release and movement out of the break. He had eight catches for 119 yards, but a key turnover late in the first half was costly.
Minnesota was driving as Johnson caught a pass over the middle and fumbled inside Ohio State territory. The Gophers led 14-10 and the turnover enabled the Buckeyes to go the other way and add points. It was a key turning point in the game.
Annexstad was off target on a few intermediate throws and continued to struggle throwing downfield. He was intercepted twice and both were the result of inaccuracy on deep passes. Annexstad has a tendency to leave too much air under throws to the sideline. He threw a costly interception downfield in the fourth quarter, where he was unable to drive the pass to the outside shoulder.
Despite all of the mistakes, Minnesota trailed by only six points late in the third quarter and marched down the field. The drive quickly stalled, following a third-down incompletion and the normally reliable Emmit Carpenter missed a 32-yard field goal attempt.
On the next possession, Ohio State drove down the field, but the Gophers’ defense again held the Buckeyes to a field-goal attempt. Carpenter missed another kick late in the game from 48 yards out. Those missed opportunities enabled Ohio State to pull away late.
Gophers’ defense strong in the red zone, show progress on the D-Line
The Gophers’ defense surrendered multiple 40-plus yard explosive plays that kept Ohio State within striking distance. Minnesota also had three personal foul penalties, including a hands to the face call on Carter Coughlin late in the first half. Those infractions, along with three turnovers, enabled Ohio State to score 10 points off giveaways. The defense was unable to create any takeaways of its own as Ohio State won the turnover battle.
Early in the game, Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins found K.J. Hill deep off a double move for 42 yards, but the Gophers’ defense managed to clamp down with help from a Carter Coughlin sacks. Cornerback Coney Durr saw extended action with true freshman Terell Smith missing the game because of an injury. He knocked away three passes on the first drive, including a key third-down breakup. He kept the wide receiver tight to his hip and reached across to poke the ball away. Durr was playing well until he was ejected in the second quarter for targeting.
On Ohio State’s second drive, Minnesota nearly had a key stop on fourth-and-short, but the officials did not review a play in which Ohio State running back Mike Weber appeared short of the marker. On the next play, wide receiver Terry McLaurin beat Durr for a 41-yard touchdown.
For the most part, the Gophers played zone coverage and forced the Buckeyes to slowly hit the soft spots. As a result, a few miscommunication or alignment issues escalated into big plays. Haskins took advantage, connecting on three scoring plays of more than 20 yards. He passed for 412 yards and three touchdowns, while showing off his connection with Hill.
Coughlin dominates the edge
Minnesota’s pass rush also showed signs of life in second half. The coaches rotated redshirt freshmen Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo and each of them made impactful plays. Many of these players are starting to develop with more experience and reps in the system. Jerry Gibson also became just the second true defensive lineman to post a sack this season. As the Gophers rotated more pass rushers, the pressure started to increase.
Coughlin was dominating by using his speed to bend the edge. All of the quick twitch athleticism he possesses is going to grab the attention of NFL scouts. He was getting pressure consistently, posting two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Minnesota’s front-seven played really well, including Kamal Martin, who stood out in coverage. The Gophers’ red zone defense was solid and kept them within striking distance. Minnesota also managed to hold Ohio State’s rushing attack to 92 yards, despite struggling against similar rushing styles two weeks ago at Maryland.