Two teams headed in opposite directions meet at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Saturday night, as the 10th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes come calling on the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Ohio State is fresh off a 49-0 shellacking of Purdue, that triumph coming on the heels on the team's lone setback of the season, a 31-18 loss at Wisconsin. As a result, the Buckeyes are 7-1 on the year and 3-1 in the Big Ten. They trail undefeated Michigan State (8-0, 4-0), and are currently one of four teams with only one conference loss.
Following this clash, OSU will face three formidable opponents to close the regular season, as home games with Penn State and Michigan sandwich a road bout at Iowa.
As for Minnesota, it lost its seventh straight game last weekend, falling in a 33-21 final at home to Penn State. It was the Golden Gophers' first game since head coach Tim Brewster was fired, and Jeff Horton has been given the job on an interim basis.
The Gophers knocked off Middle Tennessee in the season opener, 24-17, but have dropped every game since, although two of them (South Dakota and Northwestern) were decided by a combined four points.
Ohio State owns a commanding 42-7 lead in the all-time series with Minnesota, and the Buckeyes have won the last seven meetings and 23 of the last 24 overall. The Gophers' lone win during that stretch was back in 2000.
The Buckeyes scored early and often in their recent rout of Purdue, piling up 415 yards of total offense and 42 points -- all before halftime. QB Terrelle Pryor hit the mark on 16-of-22 passes for 270 yards, with three TDs and two INTs, hitting WRs Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey a combined eight times for 170 yards and two scores. Dan Herron led the OSU ground attack with 74 yards and two TDs.
Coach Jim Tressel liked what he saw from his team following the loss to Wisconsin, "It shows our kids are good leaders and they weren't going to let the younger kids be too disappointed, that we didn't make some of the errors that we'd made a week ago and our opponent didn't make some of the plays that they'd made a week ago, and we got ahead of them."
Ohio State owns both the Big Ten's top scoring offense (40.8 ppg) and defense (14.0 ppg), and the offense is led by Pryor, who has completed 66 percent of his passes for 221.9 ypg with 18 TDs and only six INTs. Pryor can also wreak havoc with his legs, ranking second on the team in rushing (408 yards) and he has scored three times. Herron has 520 yards and 11 TDs on the ground, while Sanzenbacher and Posey both have at least 34 catches and a combined 1,077 yards and 12 TDs.
The Buckeye defense, which was without the services of leading tackler Ross Homan (foot injury) last week, limited the Boilermakers to nine first downs, 118 total yards (30 rushing, 88 passing), and came away with three turnovers. It was another dominant effort from an Ohio State defensive unit that has been impressive in stopping both modes of attack this year.
The Buckeyes are currently ranked first in the conference in rushing defense (85.8 ypg) and passing defense (148.8 ypg) -- the latter of which has also yielded a league-low four passing scores. The Buckeyes have also proven to be an opportunistic bunch, ranking third in the nation in turnover margin (+1.38), as well as total defense (234.5 ypg).
Minnesota QB Adam Weber threw for 299 yards and three TDs, all of which went to WR Da'Jon McKnight, who finished with eight catches for 103 yards in last week's 12-point home loss to Penn State. MarQuis Gray and Duane Bennett combined for 12 grabs and 154 yards, while RB DeLeon Eskridge carried the ball 23 times for 111 yards. Overall, the Gophers gained 433 yards to the Nittany Lions' 351, and picked up 26 first downs to 17 for the visitors. As a result of his solid outing, Weber became just the fifth signal-caller in Big Ten history to pass for 10,000 yards (10,199).
"I thought our kids played with a lot of passion and energy. It has been a wild week with a full load of emotions for the players and the coaches. I thought they came out today with some great passion and energy and played as hard as they could," coach Horton said. "There were a few plays in there that got away from us, but I could not be more proud of the way they represented the university. We want to win. That is the bottom line, and we have to do everything in our power to do that, but I really thought they responded to a tough week."
Weber has thrown for just shy of 2,000 yards this season, with 17 TDs and seven INTs. McKnight, Gray and Eric Lair all have at least 29 catches, with McKnight landing in the end zone nine times. Eskridge and Bennett have each run for 444 yards and scored two TDs apiece.
The Golden Gophers are last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (31.9 ppg), and they have had a particularly tough time defending the run (194.1 ypg). In fact, 19 of the 35 TDs surrendered by the team have come on the ground. Minnesota also ranks 11th in the conference in pass efficiency defense (162.2), and has a league-low three sacks to its credit.
Gary Tinsley is the team's top performer on defense, logging 63 stops to this point -- 16 more than his closest teammate -- and his 6.5 TFLs also pace the club.
Ohio State appears as if it will use the loss to Wisconsin as motivation for the rest of the season. Whether that will be enough to get the Buckeyes yet another Big Ten title and a shot at the BCS National Championship Game remains to be seen. What is certain is that there is little to no chance OSU loses this game against an opponent that is having a difficult time remembering what it's like to win.