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Gophers face huge challenge: Ohio State at the Horseshoe

Good morning from Ohio Stadium, where the Gophers take on the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at 11 a.m. Central today (FS1). It’s a chilly, overcast day at the Horseshoe, with temperatures forecast to be in the mid-to-upper 40s throughout the game.

This is my third visit to Ohio Stadium and my first since 1993, and it’s impressive how massive this place is. Capacity is listed at 102,092, though the Buckeyes packed in 110,045 for their 2016 victory over Michigan.

The Gophers, who enter the game as 29½-point underdogs, haven’t beaten Ohio State since 2000, when they won 29-17 in Columbus. And before that, their last victory over the Buckeyes was in 1981, when they beat OSU 35-31 at old Memorial Stadium. I took a look back at those two wins in today’s preview story. Quarterback Mike Hohensee and tight end Jay Carroll from the 1981 team, and coach Glen Mason and wide receiver Ron Johnson from the 2000 squad shared some great stories. Here are some anecdotes that didn’t make the story:

From Hohensee, who passed for 444 yards and five TDs, on the Memorial Stadium crowd in 1981:

“It was packed, and I don’t know how many people there thought we had a chance to win. We needed to get the crowd into the game and make them believe we had a chance, give them a reason to get on their feet and make noise. We were able to do that, and it gave us a true home-field advantage – especially in the last couple drives when Ohio State had the ball. Art Schlichter still made some throws, but they weren’t making the catches.’’

Carroll, who caught three TD passes, including the winner with 2:38 left in the fourth quarter. He celebrated by making the sign of the cross. “I never practiced that or thought about doing that; it just happened,’’ he said. “After the game, reporters asked me more about that than the win or the three touchdowns. … It was a chance to me to talk about my faith, which was great.

“I was a guy who barely was playing who had no real statistics or expectations, who had three touchdowns out of nowhere. I still get people pulling me aside, saying ‘I was there.’ ’’

Johnson recalled his matchup with Buckeyes standout cornerback Nate Clements.

“Everybody kept talking about Nate Clements and how good he was,’’ said Johnson, who had eight catches for 163 yards and a TD. “He shadowed me the whole game. I remember back then – we didn’t have social media – I had no idea who Nate Clements was, besides watching film and the coaches telling me.’’

Mason remembered the night before the game when he received a call from the hotel operator at about midnight.

“The hotel operator called and said we’ve got a call for one of your players. The operator said it was [quarterback] Travis Cole’s mother. I thought it might be an emergency, so I had her put it through to me. I said, ‘What’s up, Mrs. Cole?’ ‘Nothing, I just wanted to wish Travis good luck.’ And I said, ‘I tell you what, Mrs. Cole. It’s midnight. I’ll wish him good luck. Thanks for calling.’ After the game, I went up to Travis Cole and said, ‘Hey, by the way, Travis, your mother called last night. She said good luck.’ ’’

Viramontes 2.0: Failed Gophers QB reinvents himself as linebacker

 

 

When last we saw Vic Viramontes in Minnesota, he was a third-string quarterback for the Gophers who was struggling to grasp the team’s offense. In the spring game, he split time with Zack Annexstad and completed only one of three passes for 1 yard and fumbled twice.

The former hot-shot junior college quarterback – he was the nation’s top-rated dual-threat JUCO QB in the recruiting class of 2018 – decided his future wasn’t under center. So, in early June, Viramontes transferred back to Riverside (Calif.) City College to become a linebacker.

How’s it going for him? Judging by the events of this week, pretty well.

Over the past three days, Viramontes has tweeted that he’s received scholarship offers from three FBS programs – Missouri, TCU and Louisville. Wherever he ends up will be his fourth program. He spent the 2016 at California (after he originally verbally committed to Michigan), transferred to Riverside for 2017 and spent last spring with the Gophers.

At Riverside, Viramontes leads the team with 25 tackles and has 2.5 tackles for loss. But the Tigers coaching staff hasn’t forgotten that he was a prolific player on offense who rushed for 1,346 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. Riverside is using Viramontes -- listed at a generous 6-2 and 230 pounds, up an inch and 15 pounds from his Gophers roster listing -- in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He has rushed nine times for 29 yards and four touchdowns.

“I’m a team player and whatever Coach needs me to do, I’m going to do,” Viramontes told the Riverside Press-Enterprise after rushing for two TDs in a 47-0 victory over Long Beach City College on Sept. 22.

With those three offers, it appears Viramontes, a sophomore this year, will have a chance to play major college football after all.