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Gopher Hunting

Last week the Buckeyes managed to survive their annual post-Penn State hangover game. It wasn’t pretty at times, but there were some things to get excited about. The offense put up over 600 yards, scored 49 points, and Dwayne Haskins threw for 455 yards. The defense was just about awful in the first half, but rebounded in the second to all but shut down Indiana. This week

they get to play a team coming off a loss in a huge rivalry game. Minnesota lost 48-31 to Iowa in their annual tussle for college football’s greatest trophy, the Floyd of Rosedale. Floyd is a bronze

pig. I’m all for any game that involves a pig trophy. Floyd is so coveted by the fans of each team, legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry once lamented about Hawkeye fans, “All these people care about is that damn pig.” Well, yeah. Because it’s a pig…and bronze. What more could you ask for in a trophy? Ok, other than a live turtle, which is what Ohio State and Illinois used to trade back and forth. Anyway, Minnesota rows its way into Ohio Stadium Saturday hoping to avoid a post-Floyd-game hangover (I’ll explain the whole rowing thing soon).


Urban Meyer said Minnesota has an outstanding defense. Golden Gopher head coach P.J. Fleck disagrees because they’ve given up 90 points in the last two games. After being gashed for 315 rushing yards by Maryland, Iowa managed just 103 on 40 carries. Against the Hawkeyes, Fleck’s team used the same strategy as others have used against the Buckeyes. So, once again, we’re going to see a defense whose linebackers and, at times, a safety are going to be flying towards gaps at the first sign of a run. While yes, teams have been almost maniacal about stopping OSU’s run, some of the trouble with that part of the offense has been a lack of execution on the part of the Buckeyes, and not staying with their blocks. As successful as they were slowing Iowa’s run game, the Gopher secondary struggled, and gave up 314 passing yards. Dwayne Haskins threw for 455 yards last week. If the offensive line protects him, I fully expect him go after true freshman cornerback Terell Smith, and light up Minnesota with similar numbers.

Defensive end Carter Coughlin (pictured) is an elite pass rusher. After seeing him blow by Iowa’s left tackle and cause a fumble on a sack, I think they’ll mostly keep him away from right tackle Isaiah Prince and target Thayer Munford on the left side. Prince is extremely quick off the ball, and has a tremendous “6 inch punch” (when the offensive lineman jams the defensive player by quickly straightening his arms is about the best way I can explain it). Don’t be surprised if the Gophers decide to stunt with Coughlin, and attempt to confuse OSU’s blocking. Indiana had some success with delayed blitzes, so I don’t doubt Minnesota will employ a few of those. The Buckeyes have struggled to run the ball from a tight formation in short yardage situations. Meyer spoke of the problem this week, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see offensive coordinator Ryan Day spread the formation, and use the threat of one of those deadly bubble screens to open up things in the middle of the field.


Minnesota’s quarterback is a true freshman walk-on. You read that correctly. You don’t see many of those on teams from Power 5 conferences. Zack Annexstad won the job in the spring, and has managed to hold onto it despite some struggles here and there. He threw three touchdown passes against Iowa, but threw three interceptions, and was sacked five times. Yes, the offensive line is not good, but some of those sacks are because Annexstad held the ball too long. He has a strong arm, and the Gophers are loaded with talented receivers. I look for Minnesota’s offensive coaches try to get the ball out of their young quarterback’s hand quickly to avoid the Buckeye pass rush. Considering the success other teams have had throwing down the field on Ohio State’s cornerbacks, I think Annexstad will take a shot down the field every now and then. I don’t think it will happen as often as others have tried because the Gopher offensive line has struggled to protect him, but they’re most certainly going to test the Buckeye secondary with all of those athletes they have on the perimeter. When you have offensive line issues you usually don’t run the ball well, and the Gophers don’t. Things have been so bad along the offensive line, they will start 6’9”, 400 pound true freshman Daniel Faalele at right tackle. When you’re willing to put a true freshman out there against Chase Young, you know a team is desperate to make a change. They’ll use 6’4”, 240 pound tight end Seth Green as the quarterback in a Wildcat formation, and won’t hesitate to let him run the ball. He has carried it 28 times already.


The Gopher Boat


Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck was a graduate assistant for Jim Tressel in 2006. According to TwinCities.com Fleck will wear a tie on Saturday in honor of Tressel. Fleck is a bit of a character. He loves to lead his team onto the field sprinting as fast as he can, he wore gold sneakers for their game against Iowa, and while at Western Michigan (where he coached before being hired by Minnesota) came up with the slogan “Row the Boat.” I thought this was just a Rich Rodriguez-like gimmick. Something to generate interest in the football program and make everyone feel like they’re a part of it. But, then I began to research the origin of it, and what I found changed my entire perspective. It has to do with Fleck’s son, who died of a heart condition in February of 2011. “As you hold your son as he passes away, your whole life changes. What you believe in, how you’ve believed in it, what you’ve done to that point, where you’re going to go and how you’re going to live your life all changes. But Row the Boat is really my second son’s life as I continue to live his life for him. It’s his life,” Fleck explained a few years ago, “It’s a never-give-up mantra that has to do strictly with life or adversity or handling success, never giving up…” College football needs more like this guy. He’s fun, seems to be more than just about winning, and lives his life with a higher purpose. I hope he can pull the Gophers out of the mediocrity they’ve been mired in for years. He’s in just his second season at Minnesota, and has a lot of work to do. They went 5-7 last year, but those who cover the team agree this is a better team than in 2017. They are sitting at 3-2 heading into Saturday’s game.


Zack Annexstad has thrown for 924 yards, and connected on 52% of his throws. He’s been sacked thirteen times. His favorite target is Tyler Johnson (pictured), who has 28 catches for just over 400 yards. True freshman Rashod Bateman has 27 catches while mostly lining up as the slot receiver. Leading rusher Bryce Williams, another true freshman, averages less than four yards per carry.


Carter Coughlin leads the team with five sacks, including one that caused a fumble against Iowa. He strikes me as a smaller Sam Hubbard; strong, very fast and athletic. Linebackers Blake Cashman and Thomas Barber have combined for 67 tackles and 8 ½ tackles-for-loss. After giving up just 27 points in their first three games, they’ve been torched for 90 in their last two. They’re not good at creating turnovers; only eight in five games. For the season they’re giving up just an average of 324 total yards per game. But, if you look at their last two games, both against Big Ten opponents, they’ve given an average of 426 yards.


What Do I Think?


One thing I think is certain Dwayne Haskins will have another big day. His accurate arm combined with all of those skilled receivers is not a good matchup for the Gopher secondary. I’d love to say this will be the week Ohio State’s run game breaks out, but looking at the way Minnesota was determined to not let Iowa run the ball, I don’t think that will be the case. If offensive coordinator Ryan Day is able to spread the field by using different formations, that should open things up to allow J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber to make an impact.


Minnesota wants to be able to run the ball and stay out of a lot of passing situations. But, I don’t see that happening against the Buckeyes. I can see the OSU pass rush tormenting the true freshman quarterback all day, so look for the Gophers to employ a dink and dunk offensive philosophy. The Gophers may hit a few plays here and there, but it won’t nearly be enough.


I expect the Buckeyes to light up the scoreboard with 50 at least before it’s over.


Random Things


A lot has been made of the man-to-man or press coverage Ohio State plays. Meyer explained most teams who employ that type of pass coverage don’t teach the defensive back to turn to the ball unless they’re even with the receiver. I’ve made it clear I don’t like this technique and don’t care what the philosophy behind it is. Far too often I see a defensive back in a receiver’s face watching him make the catch. Ohio State cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson and cornerback Damon Arnette agree that they need to do a better job of making a play on the ball. They feel guys are in position, but are not doing a good job once the ball reaches the receiver. Much to my chagrin the technique they’re employing isn’t going to change, so I’m hoping the execution improves. It has to if this team is going to seriously challenge for a national championship.


To most observers it seems the Ohio State pass rush has done quite well in the absence of Nick Bosa. Not true according to Urban Meyer. He says it’s not what’s been expected, but is getting there. Meyer stated Chase Young has been very good, Jonathan Copper good, but they need more from Dre’mont Jones, who has been battling an ankle problem lately.


Dwayne Haskins was added to the Maxwell Award midseason watch list. The award is presented to the nation’s most outstanding player. Dre’mont Jones was named to the Bednarik Award’s midseason list. This award is presented to the nation’s outstanding defensive player. Both are given out by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia.


Offensive lineman Branden Bowen appears close to returning. He had surgery before the start of the season on the leg he broke last year. One of Meyer’s concerns is depth along the offensive line. He is anxiously awaiting the return of Brady Taylor, who had knee surgery a few weeks ago.


Still no word yet as to the status of Malik Harrison and Jonathan Cooper. Both were injured on the same play against Indiana, and have been in concussion protocol all week. The question is, if one or both don’t play against Minnesota, who does? Keandre Jones is listed as Harrison’s backup, but it was Justin Hilliard and Baron Browning who stepped in last week after Harrison left. If Cooper does not play, I’m sure it will be the trio of Jashon Cornell (a Minnesota native), Tyreke Smith, and Tyler Friday dividing reps. Smith was singled out by Meyer as having a very good session during the pass rush portion of practice this week.


A lot of rumors have surfaced in the last year about the supposed impending retirement of defensive line coach Larry Johnson. He’s not just considered the best at that position in college football right now, but in the entire history of the game. In a recent interview with the Big Ten Network the 66-year old said, “I'm not going anywhere.” He continued, "I'm in great health, I absolutely enjoy what I do, and I have great passion for the game." Sounds good to me. Wonder what lies other schools will come up with now when they go head-to-head with Johnson recruiting defensive linemen?


A few players have had their black stripes removed recently. Center Matt Jones, receiver L’Christian “Blue” Smith, safety Marcus Hooker, and cornerback Xavier Johnson are now “official” Buckeyes. Jones is from the same Brooklyn high school as safety Jahsen Wint and former Buckeye running back Curtis Samuel, now a member of the Carolina Panthers. Earlier this week Meyer said Smith looks ready to play and could see time; he was on the field for four plays against Tulane. Hooker was suspended for the first game of the season, but has rebounded quickly. You could see him on special teams soon. Johnson wanted to be a Buckeye so bad he turned down a scholarship offer from Iowa State to accepted an offer from Meyer to walk on.

In recruiting news, the Buckeyes have lost two commitments in the last two months, and gained another. In August, Tennessee linebacker Kane Patterson decommitted from Ohio State only to pledge his services to Clemson a few days later. Hmmm, we all know Tiger head coach Dabo Swinney misled the top recruit in Ohio last year to gain his commitment. Wonder what ol’ Dabo told Patterson? The most recent OSU commit to change his mind is running back Sampson James. The Indiana native flipped his commitment to the home state Indiana Hoosiers on Sunday. Urban Meyer did get a commitment from their top remaining receiver prospect. Jameson Williams (pictured) of St.Louis is the 130th ranked player nationally in the class of 2019.


According to a report from Andrew Lind, the Buckeyes will wear black uniforms when they take on Nebraska on November 3rd. They first wore all black in 2015 against Penn State.


It was announced the Buckeyes’ game at Purdue will be a 7:30 kickoff on October 20th, and will be broadcast by ABC.


The Buckeyes haven’t played the Gophers since 2015, and have won nine straight in the series. No changes to this week’s depth chart.


Paid Bucks


The Browns’ Denzel Ward was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his crucial block of a Ravens field goal at the end of the first half.


Michael Thomas had 4 catches for 74 yards as Drew Brees broke the all-time career passing yards record in the Saints’ 43-19 win over the Redskins Monday night. Defensive back Vonn Bell had eight tackles for the New Orleans defense.


Safety Malcolm Jenkins had six tackles for the Eagles as they beat the Giants Thursday night. Cornerback Eli Apple had eight tackles for New York.


Legend Lost

John Gagliardi, college football’s all-time winningest coach, passed away last weekend at the age of 91. He began his career as a head coach of both football and basketball at Carroll College in Montana in 1949. After four seasons he moved on to St.John’s University in Minnesota, where he remained head coach until his retirement in 2012; a span of sixty years. His team’s won NAIA national championships in 1963 and ’65, along with NCAA Division III national titles in 1976 and 2003. The title in ’03 came at the expense of Mount Union, who was trying to win their fourth straight championship. The win gave St.John’s a measure of revenge after losing to Mount Union on a field goal on the game’s final play in 2000.


I covered that 2000 game. I remember the weather being cold, wet, and miserable. I also remember watching the St.John’s team “stretching” before the game while singing the theme to The Flintstones. Describing what they were doing as stretching is kind of, well, a stretch, because it was really just a bunch of odd gyrations. But, they sure looked like they were having a good time. Coach Gagliardi was known for doing some unorthodox things. Hey, he coached hockey for a while at St.John’s, so what do you expect? He held no team meetings and never yelled at his players. You read that correctly: a football coach who did not believe in yelling. He must have done something right because he finished his career with 489 wins.



Do people hunt gophers? If you're around my age, you know some blow up entire golf courses trying to get rid of them. That one will leave the younger folks scratching their heads.

The Buckeyes kickoff at noon Saturday on Fox Sports 1 (FS1). Enjoy the game everyone.

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