U overwhelmed by unbeaten Buckeyes in second half

by Brian Stensaas

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Though nobody but those on the field truly knew what it felt like to be picked apart by No. 6 Ohio State on Saturday afternoon, the 104,897 in attendance at the Horseshoe got a sample during the fourth quarter.

With the game in the Buckeyes’ control at 27-3, Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq found himself in trouble – again – and scrambled to his right. Waiting for him was Buckeyes’ 6-foot-3, 271-pound defensive end Darrion Scott, who pummeled a much smaller Abdul-Khaliq to the ground for a two-yard sack.

The hit sent the crowd into a resounding “Ooh,” a reaction normally reserved for a World Wrestling Entertainment match.

The hit personified a dismal offensive showing by the Gophers, who eventually succumbed to a 34-3 loss. It was the fourth time in the afternoon Abdul-Khaliq was caught behind the line of scrimmage.

“There are two things in offensive football: consistency and big plays,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “If you want to be really good, you have both. If you want a chance to win, you need to be concise and rely on some big plays. (Saturday) we had neither.”

Following a brief two-week representation, Minnesota fell out of both the coaches and Associated Press polls following the loss.

Running back Terry Jackson II ran for over 200 yards himself the last two games, the Gophers (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) managed only 112 total net yards of offense in the game, including a whopping seven in the second half.

The passing game was especially inept. Abdul-Khaliq went 10-for-20 for a mere 59 yards and overthrew his intended receivers on a handful of occasions. As a result, Minnesota’s longest play from scrimmage went for 11 yards.

“We had some chances, especially me, to make some plays, but we just didn’t do it,” said Abdul-Khaliq, who failed to set the school record (11) for consecutive games started with a touchdown pass. “We had a lot of things going our way but didn’t capitalize.”

A blocked punt by Jermaine Mays led to Minnesota’s only score, a 24-yard field goal by Dan Nystrom to put the Gophers up 3-0 on the heavily favored Buckeyes (10-0, 5-0).

The lead lasted until Lydell Ross ran five yards for a touchdown with 5:59 to play in the first half. Ross and fellow back Maurice Hall took the Ohio State’s rushing load from freshman phenom Maurice Clarett, who spent most of the game as a shadow to Buckeyes’ coach Jim Tressel on the sideline.

Clarett, the team’s leading rusher with 1,019 yards, sat out due to a stinger in his shoulder. It didn’t matter to the Buckeyes, who did just fine without him Saturday.

Up 10-3 heading into the third quarter, Ohio State went off on both sides of the ball in the frame.

Ross dashed nine yards for his second touchdown of the game, and Chris Vance caught a 30-yard score in the quarter. The Gophers, meanwhile, managed a dismal -6 yards of net offense in the third.

“Their linebackers were phenomenal,” Minnesota right tackle Jake Kuppe said. “We thought we were going to get those two- and three-yard gains and then five- and six-yard gains and open up some holes, but we never got it going. We didn’t execute.”

Just for kicks, Ohio State added another touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game had long been over. The Gophers failed their first big test of the season, but by no means is the year over. No. 13 Michigan comes to town this week before sixth-ranked Iowa visits next week.

“We’re still 7-2 and one of the best teams in the Big Ten,” Jackson said. “We lost, but we can’t afford to stop now.”

Brian Stensaas welcomes comments at [email protected]