COLUMBUS, OHIO – To pull off an upset of massive portions, a football team needs a lot to go its way. Avoiding turnovers, capitalizing on opportunities and getting the right official’s call are ingredients to that end.
And for all that the Gophers did well as 29½-point underdogs in throwing a big scare into mighty Ohio State on Saturday, the No. 3 Buckeyes emerged with a tighter-than-the-score-looks 30-14 victory because Minnesota didn’t own the key moments.
Dwayne Haskins competed 33 of 44 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns as the Buckeyes (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) defeated the Gophers (3-3, 0-3) for the 11th consecutive time. The Gophers held Ohio State to 19 points fewer than its season average entering the game. Minnesota trailed by three points at halftime and six entering the fourth quarter, producing tense times for the Ohio Stadium announced crowd of 100,042.
However, three turnovers, a couple of missed field-goal attempts and a head-scratching fourth-down spot by officials helped end the upset bid.
“I told them, ‘Put the loss on me,’ ’’ Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said of his players. “ ‘… What you showed, we can be a really good football team.’ ’’
Redshirt freshman running back Mohamed Ibrahim rushed 23 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns for the Gophers, while true freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad completed 13 of 23 passes for 218 yards with two interceptions. Tyler Johnson caught eight passes for 119 yards.
From the start, the Gophers didn’t look as if they were being led to slaughter. After an Ohio State field goal, Minnesota responded with an 11-play, 75-yard march capped by Ibrahim’s 1-yard TD run. In a sign of things to come, Ibrahim had four carries for 36 yards on the march, while wildcat QB Seth Green carried three times for 17 tough yards to the 1.
“Oh my gosh. They were gashing them up front,’’ Ibrahim said of the Gophers offensive line, which paved the way for 178 rushing yards.
One of the game-changing plays came late in the first quarter. Facing fourth-and-2 from the Gophers 44, Ohio State’s Mike Weber was credited for a 3-yard gain for a first down after receiving a more-than-generous spot. TV replays showed he came up noticeably short, but officials would not review the spot.
“I don’t think [Weber] got it, but I’m not the official,’’ Fleck said. “They’re going to put the ball where they think it was. [I was] waiting for the booth review, and they’re saying, ‘No, no, no. We’re not doing it.’ Usually, they’ll buzz it if it’s close.’’ Fleck indicated the officials were adamant about the spot.
On the next play, Haskins connected with Terry McLaurin on a 41-yard TD pass for a 10-7 lead.
Again, the Gophers responded and went up 14-10 on Ibrahim’s 3-yard TD run with 11:53 left in the first half. Annexstad and Johnson hooked up three times for 54 yards on the 75-yard drive.
After Blake Cashman made a key fourth-and-1 stop of J.K. Dobbins at the Minnesota 17, Ibrahim had a 34-yard run to reach Buckeyes territory. But Shaun Wade forced Johnson to fumble after a 13-yard reception, and Jeffrey Okudah recovered at the 24. The fumble stood after a video review.
“It was a huge play in the game,’’ Fleck said. “… When a team like that, the No. 3-ranked team in the country, gives you nothing, you can’t give them anything back.’’
Ohio State took the lead for good, 17-14, on Haskins’ 36-yard TD pass to K.J. Hill.
The Buckeyes made it 20-14 midway though the third quarter on Blake Haubell’s 47-yard field goal and 23-14 on his 27-yarder early in the fourth. In between, the Gophers drove to the OSU 14 before Emmit Carpenter missed a 32-yard kick.
Minnesota reached the Ohio State 34 with 9:25 left in the fourth, but Annexstad threw his second interception. The Gophers drove to the Buckeyes 31 with 5:46 left before Carpenter missed from 49 yards. Ohio State tacked on Haskins’ 27-yard TD pass to Hill.
“This moment wasn’t too big for our football team,’’ Fleck said. “… I thought they played their hearts out.’’