From a road game test to the Big Ten title race, this post analyzes key topics to be aware of for tomorrow night's contest.
1. Another Road Test. In Ohio State's previous two road games the team has struggled early, only leading Illinois 14-10 and falling behind Wisconsin 21-3 by halftime. Both of these opponents are better than the Golden Gophers, granted, but Ohio State still must put together a better showing on the road than they have so far this season. Even though the game is an 8:00 primetime event, the atmosphere should be relatively tepid with Minnesota's struggles this season. The atmosphere at TCF Bank Stadium should not affect the Buckeyes' performance as it did at Camp Randall two weekends ago.
2. Offensive Style. The Buckeye structure as a multiple offense is semi-malleable. It is not, like LSU's, a grab bag of different schemes on a given week, but it does have significant variability between formations and quarterback positioning. Against Wisconsin, Ohio State opened the game using shotgun spread formations, but it was remarkably ineffective against the Badger defense. In the second half, they adjusted by using a downhill running attack out of the Pistol formation along with more under center plays. A week later, against Purdue, Ohio State resembled the latter much more than the former. It is Along the Olentangy's opinion that the more pro-style offense fits the Buckeyes' personnel better, and it will be interesting to see if the coaches agree on Saturday.
3. Desperation in Minnesota. As previously noted, Minnesota is not good. They don't do anything especially well on offense, and their defense struggles with such basic tasks as tackling. But desperation can be a powerful motivator, and if the Golden Gophers are not at the desperation point yet, they never will be. Interim head coach, and offensive coordinator, Jeff Horton is advertising for his next employer, while the players are hoping to salvage the season with an upset over the scourge of the Big Ten, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Minnesota may lack the talent to pull off the upset, but don't be surprised if you see a number of trick plays and 4th down conversion attempts out of the rodents. They have nothing else to play for at this point.
4. Ohio State's depth. Should the game get out of hand, the Buckeyes face an interesting conundrum that is not often presented to collegiate superprograms. After losing another scholarship defensive back to injury (Corey Brown - out for season), the patchwork secondary now has little talented, experienced depth behind the starters. Only career backups (Aaron Gant, Nate Oliver) and inexperienced redshirt freshmen (Dominic Clarke, Jamie Wood) shore up the secondary at key spots. Does Ohio State, with a limited travel roster of 65, substitute freely on the road? Or do they keep the starters in longer than usual because of these limitations?
5. Michigan State-Iowa. This game may not directly affect the Buckeyes' performance against Minnesota, but it will certainly have massive implications for the Big Ten title race, and thus, the Buckeyes post-season bowl destination. If Iowa upsets the Spartans, Ohio State will then be in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten standings with the Spartans and Wisconsin. A Michigan State victory will greatly diminish Ohio State's chances of repeating as Big Ten champion for the 6th straight season. Of course, none of this matters if Ohio State does not take care of business in Minneapolis tomorrow evening.