For the second time, former Ohio State graduate assistant and current Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck will bring a team into Ohio Stadium to face the Buckeyes. Fleck previously brought his Western Michigan team to the Horseshoe in 2015, a game won by the Buckeyes, 38-12. Fleck spoke glowingly of his experiences at Ohio State in an interview earlier this week. "I learned how to grind, how to do a lot of the grunt work...I learned how every one of those things that you see on game day takes everybody, not just the head coach. It goes all the way down to the GAs work.”
Minnesota began the season 3-0 against non-conference opponents New Mexico State, Fresno State and Miami (Ohio), but have lost their first two Big Ten games to Maryland and Iowa. Coming into this game, Minnesota ranks third in the conference in total defense, only allowing 324 yards per game. The Golden Gophers have been effective against the pass, ranking fourth in the Big Ten at 197 yards per game. But the Buckeyes will represent Minnesota's toughest test yet.
For one, Ohio State is leading the Big Ten in total offense, averaging nearly 566 yards per game. Redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins has already thrown 25 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. It is unusual for an Urban Meyer team to have more success throwing the ball compared to running it, but that has been the case to this point. The Buckeyes are averaging 201 rushing yards per game with Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins contributing in the backfield.
Minnesota at Ohio State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Ohio State -29.5
Three Things To Watch
1. Minnesota's Carter Coughlin vs. Ohio State's offensive tackles
Ohio State's offensive line has been fairly solid protecting Dwayne Haskins, but had a few issues in that department last week against Indiana. Coughlin is tied for first in the Big Ten with five sacks and he will be the Gopher defender that the offensive line will gear up to stop in obvious passing situations.
2. Minnesota's Zack Annexstad vs. Ohio State's pass rush
Annexstad is a walk-on true freshman quarterback who has had his share of ups and downs this season. He's completing just 52 percent of his passes but has managed to limit the turnovers with eight touchdown passes compared to five interceptions. The Buckeyes miss defensive end Nick Bosa's presence up front, but the team has gotten production from other sources. Ohio State is second nationally with 22 sacks. The Buckeyes will look to add to that total on Saturday and also hope to force the young quarterback into some mistakes with their pressure.
3. Ohio State's running game vs. Minnesota's run defense
Urban Meyer conceded in his Monday press conference that the Buckeyes' running game has not gotten the job done consistently in short-yardage situations. "Third and one is tough right now," he said. Neither Mike Weber nor J.K. Dobbins have gone over 100 rushing yards since the win over TCU on Sept. 15. Minnesota's run defense has done a good job thus far, holding teams to 127 yards per game on the ground. But the Gophers have had some trouble getting off of the field. They are 10th in the Big Ten opponents' third down conversions (36.5 percent). Compare that to Ohio State's defense, which is leading the way at 30.3 percent.
Ohio State comes into this game a heavy favorite, as Minnesota has struggled with injuries to key players (Rodney Smith, Antoine Winfield Jr.), as well as offensive inconsistency. The Buckeyes want to rest several players who have been battling nagging injuries, while also giving key reserves valuable game experience. It will not be surprising if Dwayne Haskins only plays the first half, especially if the talented quarterback lights it up early as he has done this season.