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Minnesota had No. 4 Ohio State on the ropes, but the Buckeyes showed just how quickly they can flip the script.
Even after jumping out to a 10-0 lead, the Buckeyes found themselves trailing Minnesota 14-10 at halftime and then 21-17 in the third quarter. But in the span of about eight minutes, Ohio State turned that four-point deficit into a 10-point advantage and eventually escaped with a hard-fought 45-31 victory in Minneapolis.
On the first play after Minnesota took that 21-17 lead, Ohio State responded with a 56-yard touchdown pass from C.J. Stroud to Garrett Wilson. Stroud, making his first career start, hit Wilson in stride with a beautiful ball. But it was Wilson, the All-American, who did most of the work with a sparkling route to shake the Minnesota defender and get behind the defense.
On the ensuing possession, two more of Ohio State’s stars showed up. This time, it was defensive linemen Zach Harrison and Haskell Garrett. Harrison, the five-star defensive end, was converging on Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan all night and finally got to him. He got the ball, too, and forced it loose on a strip sack.
The ball bounced free and Garrett, an all-Big Ten selection, scooped it up and rumbled 32 yards for a touchdown to extend OSU's lead to 31-21.
Minnesota responded with a field goal on its next drive, but field goals won’t cut it when you’re trying to upset a top-five team. That’s especially true when the Buckeyes are rolling out the next cavalcade of stud freshmen. In 2021, running back TreVeyon Henderson looks to be the best of the bunch.
He showed why with this 70-yard burst on a screen pass from Stroud.
That put the Buckeyes up 38-24 with 9:43 to go. It was too much for the Gophers to overcome, especially with star running back Mo Ibrahim (162 yards, 2 TDs) sidelined with a foot injury.
When Minnesota trailed 10-0 in the second quarter and was struggling to move the ball, Ibrahim turned the game on its head with a 56-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play from Minnesota’s own 29-yard line. That set up a Gophers touchdown and made it a game. It became even more of a game when Stroud threw an interception on OSU’s next possession, leading to an Ibrahim touchdown that gave Minnesota its first lead, 14-10.
The Gophers took that lead into halftime, but it didn't last. In the end, Ohio State’s talent advantage was too much to overcome.
What does this mean for Ohio State?
Going into a hostile road environment to open the season is never easy, and Ohio State will be better off for the experience. Minnesota is a good team, but it could not keep up with OSU's top-end talent over the course of 60 minutes.
That includes Stroud, who bounced back from some early jitters to make some big throws in the second half. This dime to Chris Olave early in the third quarter was especially impressive.
Minnesota played a ball-control style on offense, running 75 plays to Ohio State's 48. But unlike the Gophers, OSU made those plays count. The Buckeyes had 495 yards of offense and scored touchdowns on drives of 71, 38, 56, 70 and 61 yards.
Olave (4 catches, 117 yards, 2 TDs) and Wilson (5-80-1) make up the most lethal receiver duo in the country. Couple those two with the running back trio of Miyan Williams, Master Teague and Henderson, plus Stroud and a stellar offensive line, and you've got an unbelievable collection of weapons on offense.
The defense, though, certainly has holes. The secondary that struggled throughout 2020 looked shaky at times. Two freshmen — Ryan Watts and Denzel Burke — got the start at corner with Cameron Brown out and Sevyn Banks mysteriously not seeing the field. Both Watts and Burke were flagged for pass interference.
Minnesota is not exactly explosive through the air, but other teams may be able to further exploit the Buckeyes as the season progresses. Will that start next week with Oregon coming to Columbus?