COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State football sputtered briefly on offense Thursday night at Minnesota, and certainly must clean up some issues on defense.
The Buckeyes, though, could reliably turn to explosive plays to fuel a 45-31 victory.
Minnesota predictably executed a ball-control strategy, and nearly doubled up the time of possession, 38:41 to 21:19. Yet Ohio State nearly doubled up on yards per play, 10.3 to 5.4. Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim set up one touchdown with a 56-yard run and scored one of his own on a 19-yard run. But the Gophers managed only one other play beyond 20 yards.
Add a huge score-and-momentum-swinging defensive play alongside four scoring plays of 56 or more yards, and the Buckeyes’ fireworks simply overwhelmed Minnesota’s possession parade.
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck spoke with a measure of exasperation about OSU’s offensive balance.
“That’s one of the better offenses I’ve ever coached against, because they’re everywhere,” Fleck said. “They make you cover the entire field, with first-round draft picks everywhere.”
How significant are four plays of 50-plus yards in any game?
Last season, an OSU offense led by first-round NFL quarterback Justin Fields and still featuring Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson totaled five 50-plus yard plays in eight games. The national leaders, Appalachian State and North Carolina, totaled 14 such plays apiece in 12 games.
In 2019, Fields and J.K. Dobbins and a veteran receiver rotation totaled 15 plays of 50 or more yards in 14 games.
Ohio State recognized Thursday’s eruptions with its Players of the Game. On offense, Olave and running back Miyan Williams split the award. Olave turned his four receptions into 117 yards and two touchdowns. Those touchdowns covered 38 and 61 yards, as the senior displayed his after-the-catch vision and elusiveness.
Williams, making his first career start, rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown on only nine carries. That included a 71-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring. Williams later admitted he ran the wrong way on that play, but otherwise, he made the most of the wide running gaps his offensive line provided.
“They ran the ball a little bit more effective than we wanted them to, because we felt if we could truly stop the run, make them truly one-dimensional, maybe we’d have a little bit better of a chance,” Fleck said. “They were able to do it enough where it kept the play-action game open, and that’s where we were a little exposed at times.”
Defensive end Zach Harrison received the defensive award thanks in part to his strip-sack of Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan. Defensive tackle Haskell Garrett picked the ball up and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown that extended OSU’s lead to 10 points for the first time.
Mitch Rossi, a tight end by trade, earned the special teams award. That position group has contributed several weekly award winners in recent years.
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