Looking to avoid an emotional letdown after exacting revenge on Michigan State last weekend in East Lansing, the Buckeyes were sloppy at times but still had more than enough juice to beat Minnesota, 31-24, on a frozen afternoon in Minneapolis.
The score was not indicative of the talent disparity as Ohio State posted a 31-14 lead early in the 4th quarter but turnovers and mistakes allowed the Gophers to close the game with a 10-0 run.
Once again, J.T. Barrett was spectacular as he accounted for four touchdowns and while the Buckeye rush defense continues to cause concern, the pass defense dominated a bad quarterback helping Urban Meyer improve to 7-2 in games against the Top 25 during his short time in Columbus.
Now, on to Five Things from a performance that was at times uneven but still good enough to help Ohio State's position when the latest College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday night.
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER ASSAULT ON THE RECORD BOOKS
What else can you say about J.T. Barrett at this point? The kid goes from 3rd-string to starter within a 10-day span leading up to the season opener and all he's done is look like a Heisman finalist and amateur author as he rewrites the OSU record book.
Coming into yesterday's game, Barrett needed three touchdowns to break Braxton Miller's single-season Touchdowns Accounted For record. He broke that midway through the 3rd quarter of his 10th game and added another touchdown early in the 4th quarter to give him 38 on the year, two better than Miller's mark set last season.
Yesterday was the sixth time in 10 games that he's accounted for at least four scores and gave him eight games of recording multiple touchdown passes.
Though the talk when Barrett took over focused on him being a "distributor" and not as lethal with his feet as Braxton, Barrett has been sensational in the run game thanks to a great understanding of how to execute the read/option plays and deceptive speed and elusiveness.
Against Minnesota, Barrett set two OSU quarterback rushing records. He broke an 86-yard touchdown run, the longest ever by a Buckeye signal-caller and his 189 yards rushing on the day bettered Miller's mark of 186 versus Nebraska in 2012.
And for all that dominance, you never hear anything about the kid off the field. Just like Braxton. Exactly not like lightning rods such as Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel. If you're into looking way too far ahead into the future, Barrett has a chance to be on the Buckeye Mount Rushmore.
THIRD IS THE WORD
Last week, I wrote about Barrett's incredible performance on 3rd downs as he moved the chains 9 of 12 times in the beatdown of Michigan State. Yesterday, Barrett again completely owned 3rd down, converting 9 of 13.
Through the air on 3rd down, he was 4/5 with two touchdowns, one a 57-yarder to Jalin Marshall and the other a 22-yard tunnel screen to Evan Spencer for six. On the ground, he converted 5/8 3rd down opportunities including an 86-yard touchdown and a 38-yard scamper.
What's interesting about Barrett's 3rd down success is how obvious it is that he's going to be the guy running the ball if OSU elects not to pass and defenses still have no answer for it.
Over the last two games, Barrett has converted a Nintendo-esque 18 of 25 opportunities on 3rd down, good for a 72% success rate. Two words: Redshirt. Freshman.
THE MARSHALL PLAN
When the news broke Dontre Wilson would be out until at least the bowl game with a busted foot, Jalin Marshall vaulted to the top of the punt return and H-back depth chart. While nobody was happy Wilson got hurt, some fans were glad to see Marshall as the primary guy at both spots due to flashes of brilliance as his role continued to expand.
The last two games, however, Marshall has made some mistakes that could've been far more impactful if not for teammates picking him up. Yesterday, Marshall muffed a punt and fumbled near the goal line not only costing Ohio State a touchdown but the mistakes were compounded as the Buckeye defense could not keep Minnesota out of the end zone on both ensuing possessions.
As Urban said after the game, those mistakes have to get cleaned up because not only is Marshall a very talented player that can help this team win, he's the only legit option at both the H and punt return spots until Wilson returns.
Only Jeff Greene has returned a punt outside of Marshall and Wilson this season and that's probably not going to change 10 games in. Plus, Marshall is averaging 11.5 yards per return.
At the H, Marshall has capitalized on the extra snaps and gives the Buckeyes a wildcat component that has been effective. Yesterday, amid the frustrating plays, Marshall totaled 107 yards including the 57-yard catch and go and also looked good on a jet sweep.
The play for Meyer is to keep utilizing Marshall exactly as would any other H is his offense and hope the young buck gets a handle on ball security.
STRUGGLING TO STOP THE RUN
All off-season the chief concern on defense was whether or not Chris Ash's new coverage scheme would allow the Buckeyes to stop sucking at stopping the pass. Though the Buckeyes haven't faced any elite quarterbacks and had some troubles early, they've largely been very good in defending the pass ranking 5th nationally in Opp Int Thrown % (5.03%), 15th in Opp Yards/Pass (6.0) and 17th in Opp Pass/Yards Game (189.4).
The real issue on defense – one that could come back to haunt them against say Wisconsin if they don't clean it up – is slowing down legit running backs.
Last week, Jeremy Langford ran for 137 (7.6 ypc) of Michigan State's 178 rushing yards (5.2 ypc) with three touchdowns and yesterday, David Cobb ran 27 times for 145 yards (5.4 ypc) with three touchdowns. Cobb's day was even more frustrating because it was obvious Minnesota was one-dimensional due to the weather and a terrible quarterback as the Buckeyes held Mitch Leidner to 7/19 passing with a pair of picks and nearly tacked on a pick-six if not for an arguable pass interference call.
I'm not the schematics guy so I won't pretend to be but I think the tape will show Ohio State's linebackers, while better than in year's past, still aren't the dominating set we've grown accustom to seeing over the years.
Could the lackluster run defense be what eventually undoes this season? I'm not saying it will but one good way to control Ohio State's lethal offense is to keep it on the sidelines with a run-based, clock-chewing attack and from what I saw of Melvin Gordon yesterday, Ash and Luke Fickell need to put their heads together to figure out how to slow down legit running backs if they want to keep the magical ride rolling.
ISN'T THAT SPECIAL
So the special teams weren't very good yesterday. Curtis Samuel stepped in for Wilson and did have a nice 38-yard kickoff return and the shaky (for now) Sean Nuernberger hit a chip shot field goal but Marshall's muffed punt was tough to watch and the coverage teams weren't overly sharp.
Ohio State has dominated the average starting field position stats this season but yesterday in the 1st half, the offense was consistently backed up while Minnesota enjoyed some breathing room. The Buckeyes started their seven drives at their own 21, 5, 13, 20, 25, 4, and 38-yard line while Minnesota started on no worse than their own 30-yard line and as good as Ohio State's 39-yard line after Barrett's interception, the missed block in the back call and ensuing run back.
Even superstar punter Cameron Johnston didn't have it going yesterday as he averaged just 36 yards on four punts, one inside the 20 with another going for a touchback.
Obviously, the biggest concern is getting Marshall to safely field punts but the kickoff coverage was poor yesterday as Jalen Myreck averaged over 30 yards on three returns. That unit has been hit by injuries all season and hopefully it was just an off week as Ohio State wants to continuing excelling at the little things to keep its winning streak in tact.