Entering the game as underdogs by more than four touchdowns, the Gophers flirted with a major upset over the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes. Touchdown runs of 1 and 3 yards by redshirt freshman running back Mohamed Ibrahim gave the Gophers leads of 7-3 and 14-10, but the Buckeyes rode the passing of Dwayne Haskins (412 yards, three touchdowns) to victory.
Ohio State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) got a big break in the first quarter when facing fourth-and-2 from the Minnesota 44. Buckeyes running back Mike Weber was given credit for a 3-yard gain for a first down, but replays showed he came up short. The spot was not reviewed by replay officials, and on the next play Haskins hit receiver Terry McLaurin for a 41-yard TD pass and 10-7 lead.
Minnesota (3-3, 0-3) was driving to add to its 14-10 lead when Tyler Johnson made a 13-yard reception to the Ohio State 32 but fumbled, and the Buckeyes recovered.
The Gophers trailed 17-14 at halftime and 20-14 after three quarters, but a pair of missed field-goal attempts and an interception ended their upset hopes.
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Gophers junior rush end Carter Coughlin had an outstanding game, making seven tackles, including three for losses, and sacking Haskins twice. He also forced a fumble. Fleck was impressed.
“He’s one of the best players in the country. He really is,’’ Fleck said on WCCO Radio. “He just keeps getting better every single week. He might have been the most valuable player yesterday in terms of how hard he plays.’’
Coughlin leads the Big Ten with seven sacks and is tied for third with 9½ tackles for loss.
Bag of tricks
Trailing 23-14 with 10:20 left in the fourth quarter, the Gophers pulled out a trick play, with Zack Annexstad hitting tight end Bryce Witham for a 41-yard gain to the Ohio State 34 on a reverse flea flicker. The catch was the first of the season for Witham, a junior. He added a 21-yard reception later in the quarter.
Up next at Nebraska
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Memorial Stadium
TV (radio): BTN (100.3-FM)
The skinny: The Cornuskers appeared set to win their first game under new coach Scott Frost, leading Northwestern 31-21 with less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter. But the Wildcats rallied to tie the score and won on Drew Luckenbaugh’s 37-yard field goal in overtime. The loss dropped Nebraska to 0-6, its worst start ever.
“Lombardi said it: Winning is a habit, and unfortunately, so is losing,’’ Scott Frost said. “We challenged the guys before the game: Find a way to make one more play to put us over the top. … We had some guys step up and make some plays today. Coulda, woulda, shoulda ended the game for us.’’
The loss was the third this season by five points or fewer for the Huskers (0-4 Big Ten). On Saturday, their defense allowed Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson to pass for 455 yards and three touchdowns. Three turnovers didn’t help Nebraska, either.