Brutus is fine unless he kneels to pray
It was quite painful to have type "20" next to Ohio State, but it's better than having to type the team's rank for total offense (91). Last week's loss to Purdue still lingers and it's been a particularly trying week, but that is a matter of the past and Jim Tressel's team can go in one of two directions: persevere on and use the loss to spring a final stretch run to Pasadena or crash and burn in the direction of the Outback or Alamo bowls.
Minnesota comes to town this week and the Buckeyes hold a 41-7 stranglehold on the all-time series match-up. The Gophers are solid dogs according to Vegas, but Tim Brewster's squad has a chance on homecoming if the Ohio State offense doesn't get something -- anything -- going.
The Gophers are not coming off such a great performance themselves, as they dropped last week's contest 20-0 at Happy Valley. Minnesota was able to beat Purdue 35-20 the previous week, but good thing the transitive property does not apply to sports, otherwise the Bucks would be in serious trouble. The Gophers will be fighting to stay in the Big Ten title hunt, as their 2-2 record has them in the middle of the pack, but in college football you never know how things will unfold with five games left to play.
The Buckeyes on the other hand, control their own destiny in quest of a fifth straight conference title. If the Buckeyes win out they are conference champions and would earn a trip to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. With the performance of the offense, winning out is a larger task than originally seemed a few weeks ago, though games against Minnesota and New Mexico State should give the Bucks a chance to fix up the unit before a tough November slate against Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan. We shouldn't speak too soon as last week's game is a testament to the theory of never sleeping on an opponent, but if the Buckeyes can't get things together quickly, they'll be smelling Bloomin' Onions instead of than the roses they seek in Pasadena.
Minnesota's offense is lead by a pair of veterans in quarterback Adam Weber and wide receiver Eric Decker. The deadly combo has annihilated defenses this season as the duo has teamed up 47 times for 731 yards through the air. Weber is a very smart quarterback who has had a rather smooth transition from the Gophers' spread attack from last year to a more pro-style attack that Jedd Fisch brought from the Denver Broncos this season. Weber has only thrown for 1,325 yards and 6 touchdowns this year, but this can be partially attributed to his offensive line not being able to provide him with adequate protection consistently. Decker, on the other hand, has been producing stats like it's his job in 2009, as he has 5 touchdown grabs to go along with his 731 yards of receiving. Decker, a two sport athlete in baseball as well, is a tremendous athlete who is emerging as the conference's best receiver this season.
Decker's batting avg. approaching Pryor's completion %
The Gophers have certainly relied on Decker through the air when they need yards the most, but bring a group of running backs that have been somewhat effective this season. Duane Bennett leads the team with 303 yards and 5 touchdowns in the early going and at 5-9/203 comes out of the Maurice Jones-Drew or Steve Slaton mold. Sophomore DeLeon Eskridge is the spell back for the Gophers and has contributed 220 yards and 3 scores on the year. These two backs should see plenty of action as Minnesota will likely try to get a lead and control the clock as opponents have attempted to do against the Buckeyes the past two games. While the combo in the backfield is far from the best the Buckeye defensive line has faced, they are certainly able to grind out some yards when push comes to shove in crunch time.
The Minnesota defense is the weakness of the team, a trait that can be attributed to thin depth. The Gophers have been outscored 163-162 by opponents this year, despite their winning record and are giving up an average of 23.3 points per game. They've given up 164.7 yards per game on the ground and 228.3 yards through the air, numbers that should help the Buckeye offense get back on track as they try to find their identity in game eight of the 2009 campaign.
The unit is lead by Lee Campbell who has tallied 77 tackles (eight for loss) and an interception. He is quite active in both the backfield and in the flats, and should be a name called often by P.A. announcer Bob Kennedy on Saturday. Fellow linebacker Nate Triplett leads the team with two interceptions and has added 71 tackles himself, making the middlemen a strength of the Gopher defense. The secondary is fairly weak, sans Traye Simmons, who jumped right into the Minnesota starting lineup last year after transferring from Junior College. Simmons has 23 tackles and an interception this season and the corner back has proven to be a leader for a veteran clad secondary. The Gopher defense should not underestimate the Buckeyes this week and the lack of production of late could be an advantage for OSU as Minnesota's coaches may not know what to prepare their team to see this season.
Ohio State brings a 63-19-5 record on Homecoming to the table on Saturday, but they will need to up their performance big time if they want to avoid losing two straight games for the first time since 2004 (when they lost three straight to Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Iowa). The Buckeyes are 18-2 after a loss in the Tressel Era and will look to push that number to 19-2 this weekend.
If their fortunes are to turn around, the coaches will have to do something to help the meager offense along. The struggling unit is averaging just 157 yards on the ground (48th nationally) and 174 yards through the air (101st nationally). The key to the offense lies in Terrelle Pryor's hands and if the sophomore signal caller can put it together in his head and translate it to his arm, the Buckeyes will be just fine. That moment has yet to come yet and if there was ever a time for a player to step up their game it would be this week against a team he torched a bit last year.
The Bucks will once again be without Dan Herron on offense, leaving Brandon Saine and Jordan Hall as the only backs who have seen action this season. Jaamal Berry is out again with a lingering hamstring injury and it seems he will likely redshirt. Jermil Martin will be the third back once again, but in a tight game, don't expect to see him too often. Saine's importance to this team cannot be overstated and expect Tressel to go to him early and often, as he will try to limit the number of times Terrelle Pryor has to pass the ball. Saine only carried the rock seven times in last week's loss, probably a big mistake as the junior was quite successful when running in the first half. It seems the coaches forgot the run existed once their lead was gone, straying away from standard Ohio State football. This cannot happen again, but it should prove a little harder this week with five of the top eight linemen banged up.
While it was thought that the defense might be enough to carry this team to the league championship, feelings on that front have chilled a bit. Do not take away anything from this unit's performance this season, but it was just not possible to endure the wear and tear they have the last few weeks and single-handedly win every game while the offense struggled. Ranked 9th nationally against the run (87.86 yards/game) and 37th against the pass (196.71), the Silver Bullets should still be a handful for a sometimes sputtering offense. The Buckeyes did make some big plays last week despite the fact that their front four was not able to get to the quarterback as often as in previous games, but were forced to blitz defensive backs, particularly Kurt Coleman, in order to create pressure in the backfield. The tactic did prove to be effective and if it wasn't for an overturned call on a phantom forward progress call after Coleman caused a fumble, the Buckeyes may have come out on top in West Lafayette. Regardless, expect Coleman to continue collecting footballs.
The Buckeyes need to improve on offense and cannot afford baby steps when dealing with the development of Terrelle Pryor and the rest of the unit. Whether you like it or not, the Buckeyes are going to sink or swim with TP at the helm and the only way for this team to reach its goal of another conference crown is for the coaches to put the players in position to succeed. Growing up is going to have to come fast, and while there may be some pains along the way, the next two games against the Gophers and New Mexico State will be the Bucks' chance to seize an opportunity to turn the ship around.
Some expect the Buckeyes to come out damaged and play a lackluster game. Some expect the team to come out angry and explode on the Gophers, making it rain all over Tim Brewster's parade. It's certainly been a roller coaster ride this season and it will be interesting to see which team comes out to play this weekend. Vegas is calling for an 18 point game and we think they are right on the nose.
Ohio State 28, Minnesota 10