Ohio State Defeats Minnesota, 45-31, in Season-Opening Slugfest

By Dan Hope on September 2, 2021 at 11:35 pm

MINNEAPOLIS – It wasn't always pretty and it certainly didn‘t come easily, but Ohio State won its season opener at Minnesota on Thursday night.

Despite trailing as late as the third quarter in Thursday night's first game of the season, the Buckeyes rallied back to defeat the Golden Gophers, 45-31, and earn a Big Ten win on the road to start its 2021 campaign.

The game got off to a great start for the Buckeyes. After a bend-but-don't break first series for the Ohio State defense on which Minnesota took nearly six minutes off the clock but ultimately punted, Miyan Williams – who made his first start at running back on Thursday – put the Buckeyes on the board first with a 71-yard touchdown run.

The Buckeyes forced another punt on their second defensive series, then ran nearly seven minutes off the clock on their second possession before settling for a 34-yard field goal, which Noah Ruggles made on his first field goal attempt as Ohio State's new kicker.

Ohio State appeared poised to force another punt on its third straight possession to start the game until Minnesota opted to go for it on 4th-and-1 in its own territory. The gamble paid off for the Gophers as Mohamed Ibrahim broke free for a 56-yard run. Two plays later, Tanner Morgan completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Wright over Ohio State cornerback Lejond Cavazos for the Gophers' first points of the night, cutting the Buckeyes' lead to 10-7 with 9:11 to play in the second quarter.

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
#4 Ohio State 7 3 21 14 45
MINNESOTA 0 14 7 10 31

C.J. Stroud threw the first interception of his Ohio State career on the Buckeyes’ next possession, missing behind on a throw intended for Chris Olave that was picked off by Minnesota cornerback Terell Smith. After taking over possession at Ohio State's 37-yard line, the Gophers took a 14-10 lead with 3:32 to play in the second quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Ibrahim.

The Gophers had another chance to extend their lead before halftime after Ohio State went 3-and-out on its next possession. The Buckeyes managed to get off the field without any more damage, however, after Cody Simon broke through on a blitz to sack Morgan on 3rd-and-6, after which Minnesota elected to let the clock run out and take a 4-point lead into halftime.

Stroud struggled for most of the first half, completing just eight of his first 14 passing attempts for 58 yards, but he began to heat up on the opening drive of the second half, connecting with Chris Olave on a pass that resulted in a 38-yard score for his first touchdown toss as a Buckeye, putting Ohio State back ahead 17-14 after the first possession of the third quarter.

Ohio State nearly broke the game open on the next possession when Tanner Morgan sailed a pass into the hands of Josh Proctor, which he intercepted and returned deep into Minnesota territory. Dallas Gant was called for a roughing the passer penalty, however, giving the ball back to Minnesota, and the Gophers took advantage two plays later, when Tommy Eichenberg whiffed a tackle and Ibrahim ran for a 19-yard touchdown to put the home team back in front, 21-17.

After both teams traded punts on their next possessions, Stroud connected with a wide-open Garrett Wilson for a 56-yard touchdown pass to continue the see-saw of a game and put Ohio State back ahead, 24-21.

The Buckeyes finally went back in front by two scores on Minnesota's next possession when Zach Harrison blew by Gophers left tackle Sam Schlueter and strip sacked Tanner Morgan. Haskell Garrett scooped up the fumble and returned it 32 yards for the second touchdown of his Ohio State career to extend the Buckeyes’ lead to 31-21 with 2:18 to play in the third quarter.

Minnesota didn't back down, driving into Ohio State territory on its next possession before settling for a 46-yard Matthew Trickett field goal to make it a one-score game, 31-24, with 10:39 to play.

The Buckeyes took a 14-point lead on their next possession, when TreVeyon Henderson showed why he was the top-ranked running back in the recruiting class of 2021 by turning a Stroud swing pass into a 70-yard touchdown, giving Ohio State a 38-24 advantage with 9:43 to play.

7.7 AVERAGE per RUSH 4.1
17 1st DOWNS 24
10.3 YARDS per PLAY 5.4
1-1 RED ZONE 4.4
4-8 3rd DOWNS 7-14
5-48 PENALTIES 5-50
21:00 POSSESSION 39:00

The Gophers continued to hang around, putting together a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a 2-yard run by Bryce Williams to cut Ohio State's lead back to one score with 5:31 to play.

Ohio State quickly made it a two-touchdown game less than a minute later with yet another big play in the passing game, as Olave got wide open, tight-roped the sideline and went all the way to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown, making the Buckeyes’ lead 45-31 with 4:39 to play.

Minnesota's chances of winning the game were finally snuffed out with 3:59 to play after Lathan Ransom forced a fumble that Eichenberg recovered for the Buckeyes.

In his first game as Ohio State's quarterback, Stroud finished with 294 passing yards and four touchdowns in 13 completions on 22 attempts. Williams led the Buckeyes with 125 rushing yards, while Olave had a game-high 117 receiving yards.

Ibrahim ran for 161 yards on 29 carries before leaving the game with an apparent lower leg injury late in the third quarter. 


Game Notes

  • 11 players were listed as unavailable for Thursday's game, including projected starters Harry Miller and Cameron Brown and veteran nose tackle Jerron Cage. Despite being listed as available, Sevyn Banks also did not play in Thursday's game. Other notable players who were not on the travel roster for Minnesota included Palaie Gaoteote, Quinn Ewers and Jake Seibert.
  • Thayer Munford, Teradja Mitchell, Zach Harrison and Kamryn Babb were Ohio State's captains for the opening coin toss.
  • With Banks and Brown both out, Ryan Watts and Denzel Burke started at cornerback. The rest of the starting defense consisted of Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith at defensive end, Taron Vincent and Antwuan Jackson at defensive tackle, Teradja Mitchell and Tommy Eichenberg at linebacker, Ronnie Hickman at bullet, Lathan Ransom at cover safety and Josh Proctor at free safety.
  • Burke started in his very first game as a Buckeye, while Watts, Ransom, Eichenberg, Hickman, Vincent and Mitchell also made their first career starts.
  • Luke Wypler started at center in place of Harry Miller, while Miyan Williams got the start over Master Teague at running back. The rest of the starting offense consisted of C.J. Stroud at quarterback, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba at wide receiver, Jeremy Ruckert at tight end, Nicholas Petit-Frere at left tackle, Thayer Munford at left guard, Paris Johnson Jr. at right guard and Dawand Jones at right tackle.
  • Along with Burke, other true freshmen who saw action on Thursday night included J.T. Tuimoloau, Donovan Jackson (who got in the game as a sixth offensive lineman wearing No. 41), TreVeyon Henderson (who served as Ohio State's lead kickoff returner in addition to playing running back), Jack Sawyer and Marvin Harrison Jr.
  • Williams' 71-yard touchdown run was the longest run by a Buckeye since Teague's 73-yard touchdown run against Northwestern in 2019.
  • Attendance at Huntington Bank Stadium for the game was a sellout crowd of 50,805.
  • Proctor left the game and went back to the locker room after suffering an apparent injury in the fourth quarter.
  • Olave is now tied with Brian Robiskie for the fifth-most receiving touchdowns in Ohio State history with 24.

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