Report card: Gophers remain competitive despite loss
MINNEAPOLIS -- The final score in Minnesota's 31-24 loss to Ohio State is an indication that this Gophers team was competitive against the eighth-ranked Buckeyes, who visited TCF Bank Stadium on a cold and snowy day Saturday. Few people expected the Gophers to win, and Minnesota did beat the 13-point spread the Las Vegas oddsmakers put on the game.
Ultimately, though, the Gophers couldn't do enough to top Ohio State and now fall to 4-2 in the Big Ten with two games remaining. Here are the grades from Minnesota's loss to the Buckeyes on Saturday.
David Cobb's impressive senior campaign continued Saturday against the Buckeyes, as the Gophers running back tallied 145 yards on 27 carries (an average of 5.4 yards per rush). Cobb also scored all three of Minnesota's touchdowns, finding the end zone on runs of 5, 30 and 12 yards.
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner had some success on the ground too, gaining 56 yards on 12 carries. Leidner had Minnesota's longest run of the day, a 31-yard pickup in the fourth quarter that helped set up a field goal.
On a day when the Gophers struggled to move the chains through the air, Minnesota's ground game carried the offense. It was Cobb's sixth 100-yard performance of the year, and his 145 yards were his fifth-highest total of the season. Thanks in part to the success of the running game, the Gophers were able to limit the time that Ohio State's offense was on the field. Minnesota actually won the time-of-possession battle, edging the Buckeyes 30:46 to 29:14.
After falling behind early, it appeared as if the Gophers were going to have to throw the ball. Quarterback Mitch Leidner threw just 19 passes, and he only completed seven of them -- a completion percentage of 37 percent. Leidner was without one of Minnesota's wide receivers as Drew Wolitarsky didn't play due to injury. Sophomore wide receiver Donovahn Jones was also held out due to illness, making the Gophers even more thin at the position. The passing game suffered as a result, but Leidner was inaccurate on many of his passes.
Tight end Maxx Williams led all Gophers with three catches for 47 yards, while Isaac Fruechte also had three catches for a total of 28 yards.
Leidner also threw a pair of costly interceptions in the second half, one of which was thrown into double coverage. Leidner's completion percentage dropped to 51.5 percent on the season, which ranks 118th out of 124 FBS quarterbacks.
Minnesota knew that Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was a dual threat to pass and run. He did both well on Saturday.
Barrett showed early that he's a threat to take off and run when he scored an 86-yard touchdown in the first quarter, outrunning a handful of Gophers defenders on his way to the end zone. That came after Minnesota pinned the Buckeyes back to their own 5-yard line. Barrett finished with 189 rushing yards, a career high for the redshirt freshman. He racked up those yards on 17 carries, He also added a 38-yard run as he found an opening up the middle of the field.
Meanwhile, OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott added 91 yards on 18 carries, with his longest run of the day going for 22 yards. While the Buckeyes had success running the ball all day, that early run by Barrett was one Minnesota's defense certainly would like to have back.
There's no question Gophers redshirt junior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun had the best game of his career. Boddy-Calhoun intercepted a Barrett pass in the first half to help turn the tide, and he later knocked down another pass (and also forced a fumble).
But Barrett did enough damage with his arm to keep the Gophers at bay. The Gophers' pass defense has been solid for the most part this season, but they hadn't faced a quarterback of Barrett's caliber. He finished 15 for 25, passing for 200 yards and three touchdown passes -- one to three different receivers.
Jalin Marshall's 95 yards on five catches led all Buckeyes, and he and Barrett connected on a 57-yard touchdown pass that put Ohio State up 14-0 in the first quarter. Minnesota's secondary had a breakdown in coverage in the third quarter when Barrett found a wide-open Michael Thomas in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown.
Minnesota won the field position battle Saturday, or at least for the first half. That was thanks to impressive performances by punter Peter Mortell -- who averaged 51.8 yards per punt -- and wide receiver Logan Hutton, who seemed to be the first one to the football several times as he helped pin the Buckeyes deep. In the first half, Ohio State started at its own 5, 13, 20 and 4-yard line after the Gophers' four first-half punts.
The lone blemish in the special teams game for Minnesota was a missed field goal by kicker Ryan Santoso, whose 52-yard attempt early in the third quarter hit off the left upright. Santoso had plenty of leg on the kick, which would have tied the game at 17-17, but pushed it just a bit left. That kick loomed large late in the game when Minnesota trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter.
There were plenty of positives in the Gophers' loss, but the fact of the matter is that it's still a loss. Yes, Minnesota hung with a top 10 team for most of the game and showed that it can compete with the best of the Big Ten. But the Gophers also committed too many costly mistakes that wound up hurting them.
Even with the loss, Minnesota is still in decent shape in the Big Ten West. The Gophers are 4-2 in the Big Ten and face Nebraska and Wisconsin in the final two games. After Saturday, the Badgers are in first place in the West with a 5-1 mark, meaning these last two weeks will determine which team from the division plays in the Big Ten championship game. If the Gophers win out, they'll be in Indianapolis for that title game.
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