Gophers football vs. Ohio State: Keys to game, how to watch and who has edge
The Gophers meet Ohio State on Thursday night in Minneapolis. This is the season opener for both teams.
OHIO STATE at MINNESOTA
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: Huntington Bank Stadium
Weather: 70 degrees, 50 percent chance of rain, 12-mph south wind
Records: This is the season opener for both teams.
History: The Buckeyes lead the overall series 45-7, with the Gophers’ last win coming in Columbus in 2000 and their last victory in Minneapolis in 1981. Since 1969, Minnesota is 2-39 against Ohio State.
Key matchup: Buckeyes receivers vs. Gophers cornerbacks. The Buckeyes are loaded at receiver with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njagba and Marvin Harrison Jr., while the Gophers in transition are at the corners after Benjamin St-Juste went to NFL. So who steps up opposite Coney Durr and can they contend with what might be college football’s finest receiving corps?
Who has the edge?
Gophers offense vs. Ohio State defense: Minnesota has the most-experienced offensive line in the country (180 starts), plus Mo Ibrahim (the 2020 Big Ten running back of the year), so expect Minnesota to rely on the running game in an attempt to build long touchdown drives and keep Buckeyes offense off the field. This game plan will be challenging with a dominate defensive line headlined by All-American DT Haskell Garrett, but with the Buckeyes losing their top four linebackers from 2020, it can be successful. QB Tanner Morgan is looking to bounce back from a down 2020, and not turning the ball over and winning the overall turnover margin will be vital to an upset bid. The Gophers’ top WR, Chris Autman-Bell, injured his ankle on Aug. 12, and head coach P.J. Fleck said “CrAB” is running again, but that is not the same as cutting in and out of routes. His availability is a major factor in the Gophers’ ability to pass. With Rashod Bateman gone to the NFL, the next group wideouts need to step up and the starts with Daniel Jackson. The U keeps building up TE Brevyn Spann-Ford, but with only five career receptions, he still has to show what he can do. EDGE: Ohio State
Gophers defense vs. Ohio State offense: New QB C.J. Stroud has not attempted a collegiate pass, but he did play a little bit in relief of Justin Fields last season. Stroud was a five-star recruit in the 2020 class, but a debut start could be an opportunity for Minnesota to throw him off his rhythm. For the Gophers to rattle Stroud, they will need to improve over last season’s paltry production of eight sacks in seven games, which ranked 115th in the nation. DE Boye Mafe is the U’s best pass rusher, but will go up against preseason All-American LT Thayer Munford. That matchup is one reason why more than 30 NFL scouts and front-office personnel will be at The Bank for Thursday’s game. Ohio State rushed for 260 yards per game last season, while Minnesota allowed more than 200; that is a disparity of being in the top 10 in the country and outside the top 100. RB Master Teague, who averaged 4.9 yards per rush last season, could lead the way, while Clemson DT transfer Nyles Pinckney will be expected to help hold the line of scrimmage for the U. TE Jeremy Ruckert had five TDs last season and will be a matchup issue for Abeline Christian LB transfer Jack Gibbens. EDGE: Ohio State
Special teams: The Gophers struggled in all phases of special teams in 2020 and brought in Kent State transfer K Matthew Trickett to shore up one aspect. Who the U’s kick and punt returners will be is an open question, and can they bust off a big return is an even bigger question. Buckeyes insert K Jake Seibert into a starting role. EDGE: Ohio State
Prediction: The Buckeyes receivers are too talented and too plentiful not to beat a 14-point spread against a Gophers secondary that lost an NFL draft pick, couldn’t net a transfer cornerback and are pinning hopes others can step up. Ohio State, 38-21