Elliott leads No. 1 Buckeyes past Gophers, 28-14
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The best that Minnesota could do was make it interesting at the end again.
Ezekiel Elliott weaved 15 yards for a touchdown on Ohio State’s only lengthy drive, and the top-ranked Buckeyes weathered the Gophers’ two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 28-14 victory Saturday night.
Minnesota (4-5, 1-4 Big Ten) managed only 110 yards through three quarters before finally getting Mitch Leidner’s two TD passes, the last with 2:10 to go. The onside kick went out of bounds, and Cardale Jones ran 38 yards untouched off a fake handoff for a clinching touchdown.
The Gophers have dropped their last two under interim coach Tracy Claeys, hanging in there until the end against Michigan and Ohio State.
"When you play the No. 1 team in the country on the road, the margin for error is so small," Claeys said.
Elliott ran for 114 yards — his 14th straight 100-yard game — and Vonn Bell returned an interception 16 yards for his first career touchdown for a 21-0 lead that held up. The Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0) struggled to move the ball most of the game with Jones back at quarterback.
Up next for the Buckeyes: A game at Illinois followed by the two teams from the state up north — No. 6 Michigan State and No. 16 Michigan.
The Gophers played their second game since coach Jerry Kill retired on Oct. 28 because of health issues. In the closing seconds against Michigan last week, Claeys decided to go for it instead of taking a tying field goal, and Leidner was stopped at the 1 to preserve the Wolverines’ 29-26 win.
Leidner made this one tight at the end, too.
He led a 77-yard touchdown drive that culminated in his 4-yard pass to K.J. Maye with 10:25 left, cutting it to 21-7. He then hit Maye with a 57-yard pass that set up his 4-yard touchdown to Rashad Still that gave the Gophers a chance until their onside kick dribbled out of bounds.
Leidner finished 27 of 44 for 281 yards with the one interception returned for a score.
"It was good to see us rally back in the second half, especially when some things weren’t going our way offensively," Leidner said.
The Buckeyes’ latest quarterback switch ran into some problems.
Jones completed Ohio State’s surge to the national title last season after J.T. Barrett got hurt against Michigan, and he kept the job for the first seven games this season. With the offense inconsistent, coach Urban Meyer switched back to Barrett, who had a hand in five touchdowns during a 49-7 win at Rutgers.
Barrett was cited for impaired driving during the Buckeyes’ off week, drawing a one-game suspension from the school. Jones was back at quarterback Saturday, but wasn’t effective throwing it. He went 12 of 22 for 187 yards with a touchdown, four sacks and a fumble at the Minnesota 21.
After the game, Meyer said Barrett will practice next week and could regain the starting job.
Jones’ 44-yard completion set up a weaving, 15-yard touchdown run by Elliott with 54 seconds left in the half for a 14-0 lead. Ohio State had more yards in that drive (77) than the rest of the half (55).
Braxton Miller — the other quarterback on the Buckeye roster — took five snaps and ran each time. He also caught a 45-yard pass. His head hit the ground hard as he was tackled after the catch, and he had to be helped off the field.
Bell got Ohio State’s first score on a 16-yard interception return that initially was nullified by a targeting penalty on linebacker Joshua Perry, who hit the quarterback in the chest as he released the ball. A review indicated there was no targeting and the score stood.
"It wasn’t a late hit," Claeys said. "They thought the contact was with the facemask, head to head. The review showed it wasn’t. The hit was in the chest, so they picked up the flag."