By Mike Hendrickson
Minnesota will face a tough challenge when it travels to No. 1 Ohio State in its first game against an opponent ranked No. 1 since 2006. A full breakdown and score prediction can be seen below:
When Minnesota runs the ball:
Ohio State excels in just about every aspect of the game, but its run defense could use some work. The Buckeyes are currently 51st in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing defense. Redshirt freshman running back Rodney Smith and redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner had a strong game running against Michigan’s stronger defense last week, and if freshman Shannon Brooks rebounds Minnesota could run through Ohio State’s defense.
Matchup to watch: RB Rodney Smith vs. DE Joey Bosa
When Ohio State runs the ball:
Junior Ezekiel Elliot may be one of the best running backs in the FBS. He is fifth in the nation in rushing yards, and hasn’t rushed for under 100 yards since last year’s game against Minnesota. The Gophers’ rushing defense has been a little above average this season, but will need to be better than that to stop Elliot. Redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones isn’t as mobile as Ohio State’s other starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett, but he can still run the ball effectively and make this a hard matchup for the Gophers.
Matchup to watch: RB Ezekiel Elliot vs. LB De’Vondre Campbell
Advantage: Ohio State
When Minnesota passes the ball:
Leidner has had a lot of success throwing the ball recently, but Ohio State may put an end to that. The Buckeyes have the second best passing defense in the FBS and forced Leidner to throw for his second-lowest passing yardage total last season. The Buckeyes will be without junior safety Cam Burrows and sophomore safety Erick Smith, but their pass defense will be strong no matter who’s on the field Saturday.
Matchup to watch: QB Mitch Leidner vs. S Vonn Bell
Advantage: Ohio Sate
When Ohio State passes the ball:
This matchup became more interesting when Barrett was suspended for the game against Minnesota and Jones was elevated back to the starting role. Barrett had 389 yards on the ground and through the air against the Gophers last season, and his absence will hurt Ohio State. However, Jones is still one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and led Ohio State to a national championship last season. Minnesota’s pass defense is very good, but Jones and his wide receivers give Ohio State the edge.
Matchup to watch: WR Michael Thomas vs. CB Eric Murray
Advantage: Ohio State
Other key factors:
Barrett’s absence does make this a more intriguing game as Minnesota’s defense has been strong almost all season and its offense is starting to perform better. Jones is still a college good starter but Ohio State may scramble for a bit with the unexpected quarterback change.
If the Gophers run the ball very well, and pick when to pass wisely, they have a chance. Minnesota’s offense exploded against Purdue when they did this, and can be successful again if their running game makes big plays.
Ohio State 38, Minnesota 17
Ohio State is too strong of a team this year for Minnesota to come close to pulling an upset. The Buckeyes have only lost twice at home in the past four seasons, and are just a more talented team than the Gophers.
Prediction record so far this season: 7-1