After the Big Ten opened its 2021 season with one game in Week 0, the rest of the conference kicks off on Sept 2., including Ohio State traveling to TCF Bank Stadium to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. This game marks Ohio State's first trip to Minnesota since the 2014 season.
Heading into Year 3 of coaching the Buckeyes, Ryan Day has assembled a talented roster that is brimming with optimism. Redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud will make his debut as Ohio State's starting quarterback and will be able to rely upon a deep wide receiver group featuring returning starters Chris Olave (50 receptions in 2020) and Garrett Wilson (43 receptions in 2020).
Minnesota will be looking to bounce back from a challenging and disappointing 2020 season that saw the Golden Gophers finish 3-4 in the abbreviated Big Ten-only schedule. Minnesota ranked near the bottom in just about every defensive category and needs to improve if the Golden Gophers will be able to contend for a Big Ten West division title. Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck remarked on his team, "This is going to be one of the deeper teams we have, which gives us the chance to be as successful as this team can possibly be, and that's all we can ask from each team each year... What that looks like, we'll find out."
Ohio State leads the all-time series with 45 wins and only 7 losses. This will be the first time the teams have played since the 2018 season, a 30-14 win by Ohio State.
Ohio State at Minnesota
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Ohio State -13.5
When Ohio State Has the Ball
Ohio State is in unfamiliar territory with its quarterbacks, as none of them have ever attempted a pass at the college level. Luckily for Stroud, he will have the aforementioned Olave and Wilson, as well as Jaxon Smith-Njigba to provide reliable and dangerous targets in the Ohio State passing game.
Ohio State has a reshuffled offensive line, with Harry Miller moving into the starting center role. With this game marking Stroud's first start, it will not be surprising if Day elects to rely upon a running game that features Master Teague III and Miyan Williams. This will allow Stroud to become more comfortable as the game progresses and will also wear down the Minnesota defense.
As mentioned earlier, Minnesota's defense struggled mightily in 2020. With Stroud making his first start, the Golden Gophers may try to blitz him in an effort to rattle his confidence. Minnesota defensive end Boye Mafe led the Golden Gophers in 2020 with 4.5 sacks and should be lined up opposite of Ohio State's Nicholas Petit-Frere, who is starting at left tackle for the Buckeyes.
When Minnesota Has the Ball
Minnesota relied heavily upon tailback Mohamed Ibrahim for most of its offensive production in 2020. Listed at 5'10", 210 pounds, Ibrahim ran for 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns. Speaking on Ibrahim, Fleck stated, "He's one of the best players in college football. Period." Minnesota will run Ibrahim early and often against the Buckeyes, as Ibrahim has the benefit of a returning and experienced offensive line.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Tanner Morgan will look to bounce back from a shaky 2020 season during which he only completed about 57.9 percent of his passes, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford will attempt to get Morgan back to the level of play he had in 2019 when Morgan completed 66 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and only seven picks. However, Minnesota's lead receiver Chris Autman-Bell suffered a leg injury earlier in August and may be unable to play in this game.
The Ohio State defense is also looking to bounce back from a disappointing defensive performance in 2020. The linebackers are all inexperienced, so the Ohio State defensive line will need to come up big against a Minnesota offensive line that will be trying to clear holes for Ibrahim.
A night game on the road with an inexperienced quarterback is not the way Ryan Day would have preferred to begin the 2021 season. Ohio State may have to play more conservatively than usual in the season opener to help Stroud, and this game should be a good building block for the team. Big Ten West road games have been devastatingly bad for Ohio State over the past few seasons (at Iowa in 2017, at Purdue in 2018), but those games have usually come later in the season. Ohio State will not overlook Minnesota, and the superior depth and speed the Buckeyes possess will help them close things out in the fourth quarter for their first win of the 2021 season.
Prediction: Ohio State 37, Minnesota 20
Podcast: Week 1 Preview, Predictions & Spread Picks