Asking for a win over the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes was a daunting task. The Gophers came to play, though, and hung around all game but ultimately fell 30-14 in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday.
Ohio State didn’t play its best game, even though Dwayne Haskins threw for over 400 yards. Minnesota, looking for its first Big Ten win, had a chance at the upset.
But the Gophers’ execution on offense really hurt those chances. Zack Annexstad threw an interception with just over nine minutes to go in the game after the Gophers ran a successful flea flicker for 41 yards while trailing 23-14.
That wasn’t the only miscue for the Gophers. Their offense failed to collect points on several drives that ended around Ohio State’s 30-yard line or inside the red zone. Emmit Carpenter missed a pair of field goals in the second half that cost Minnesota six points it desperately needed. The Buckeyes led by one possession for most of the second half until a field goal midway through the fourth quarter gave them a nine-point lead, and a late touchdown sealed the outcome.
Before the game, Fox Sports 1 sideline reporter Jenny Taft said P.J. Fleck told his team to treat this game like a championship. It was a game for the players to know what championship football feels like, looks like and sounds like. While Ohio State (7-0, 4-0) did get the win to remain undefeated, the Buckeyes could have easily been upset.
The game was close throughout, especially early on. The two teams traded points in the first half, and the Gophers encouragingly trailed by just a field goal at halftime, 17-14. It could have been a lead had Tyler Johnson not fumbled the football in Ohio State territory with the Gophers driving in the second quarter.
In that first half the Gophers running game, led by freshman Mohamed Ibrahim, excelled. Minnesota collected 66 yards on the ground as the running game set up manageable third downs, something it has struggled with in Big Ten play.
The Gophers did find themselves in some long third down situations, but, unlike last Saturday against Iowa, it wasn’t what lost them the game.
It certainly leaves the “what if” feeling on the Gophers sideline. What if Carpenter makes both of his field goal attempts? What if Annexstad doesn’t throw his second interception when the Gophers were in good field position? What if Tyler Johnson doesn’t fumble the ball after what would have been a first down? All these “what ifs” could have resulted in points for the Gophers had the offense executed when it needed to.
The Gophers ended five of 10 drives on Annexstad’s interceptions, Johnson’s fumble and Carpenter’s missed field goals. Clearly, points were left on the table. That hurt the Gophers (3-3, 0-3) and, unless it’s corrected, the team will continue to have problems with the tougher teams in the Big Ten.
Rush Defense Stands Tall Again
The Gophers defense continued where it left off against Iowa the previous week. The group buckled in and stopped the Buckeyes from running away with the game. Two drives, in particular, the Gophers stopped Ohio State in the red zone, forcing them to settle for a field goal.
On the Buckeye’s first drive, the Gophers stopped them at the 2-yard line. It was an important stop not just because it was Ohio State’s first drive, but it came after Annexstad’s first interception.
In the second half, the Gophers defense did it again, this time at the 7-yard line. And again, the Buckeyes drive started with the Gophers missing a chance at points.
On both drives the Minnesota defense was on the field for 12 plays. To stop any team, much less the No. 3-ranked team, under those circumstances is impressive.
Carter Coughlin recorded two sacks. For Coughlin, he now has at least one sack in the last four games (two vs Miami (Ohio), one vs Maryland and one vs Iowa). Coughlin, as of publication, leads the Big Ten with seven sacks.
Sophomore defensive back Coney Durr saw increased action, filling in for the injured freshman Terell Smith. Smith was ruled out before the start of the game and Durr started in his place. Durr played well, with several pass breakups but was ejected in the second quarter for targeting Haskins on a hit to the head while Haskins was sliding feet first.
Coming into today, the Gophers had not beaten Ohio State in its last 10 tries. The last time the Gophers defeated the Buckeyes was Oct. 14, 2000, when Minnesota won 29-17. The last time the Gophers defeated a top-5 ranked team was Nov. 6, 1999, when it won 24-23 over No. 2 Penn State.
The Gophers next travel to take on Nebraska with kickoff scheduled for 2:30 p.m. The Cornhuskers are 0-6 and lost to Northwestern Saturday.