COLUMBUS, OHIO – The task looked daunting. The Gophers had allowed an average of 45 points in their first two Big Ten games, and now they were facing a star-studded Ohio State team that was scoring 49 points per contest.
Like last week vs. Iowa, the Gophers focused on stopping the run game. They limited the Buckeyes to 92 yards on 32 carries and no rushing touchdowns in a 30-14 loss on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. “Our run defense was tremendous,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.
Against the pass, however, Minnesota was vulnerable. Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins completed 33 of 44 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns.
Already missing standout safety Antoine Winfield Jr. for the season, the Gophers were without starting cornerback Terell Smith and starting defensive tackle O.J. Smith, both held out because of head injuries. And Terell Smith’s replacement, Coney Durr, was ejected early in the second quarter for targeting after a late hit on a sliding Haskins. Chris Williamson replaced Durr.
“We were thin to begin with in the back end,” Fleck said. “Losing Coney, next thing you know, it’s pretty thin.”
Though Haskins had impressive stats, the Gophers defense stiffened enough to force Ohio State to kick three field goals, enabling Minnesota to stay within one score for most of the game.
Haskins was impressed. “I’m pretty sure they’re a top-five defense in the country,” he said. “What they did, they do it well. They’re very consistent.”
Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman, whose 13 tackles tied teammate Antonio Shenault for most in the game, saw progress.
“We came out playing hard right away,” said Cashman, whose fourth-down stop of J.K. Dobbins ended an Ohio State threat at the Gophers 18 in the second quarter. “We had some issues in the secondary, but that’s on me, that’s on the defensive line, that’s on everyone. But I was very satisfied with what I saw out of our team and our defense today.”
Added Fleck: “We executed that well at times, but they’ve got freak players. … When they got an opportunity to make a play, they did.”
The Gophers had 396 yards of offense, including 178 rushing, while quarterback Zack Annexstad was sacked twice after being sacked a Big Ten-high nine times in the first two conference games. Fleck saw an offensive line that is improving. “They’re gluing together, playing well together,” he said.
True freshman right tackle Daniel Faalele, the 6-9, 400-pounder, made his first start. “Daniel played well,” Fleck said. “He gave up some things here and there, but there’s nothing like having your first start as a true freshman in the Horseshoe.”
Added running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who rushed 23 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns: “Shout out to my O-line. They helped me get two [TDs] today.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer wasn’t pleased with his run defense. “Their back had 160 yards against us, and that’s not acceptable,” he said.
• Royal Silver started in place of O.J. Smith at defensive tackle. … Reserve defensive end Tai’yon Devers did not play (coach’s decision).
• Ohio State junior defensive end Jashon Cornell, the former Cretin-Derham Hall standout, started in place of injured Jonathon Cooper and made one tackle.