Ohio State has a weakness? Maybe

Murali Balaji

The Gophers are 37-point underdogs against the Buckeyes this weekend, which should speak volumes on the talent disparity between the two teams.
But it also means the Gophers have almost no respect nationally, and they won’t earn much until they can compete against a team of Ohio State’s caliber.
Maybe this is motivation enough for the home team to stop patting themselves on the back for their effort and start winning. Or maybe the Gophers, like other teams that have been squashed by Ohio State, will be too overwhelmed by the feeling of playing the No. 1 team in the country.

Gophers on offense
OK, this time the Gophers will run the ball more. It is the only thing they might be able to do effectively against the Buckeyes. The strength of the Ohio State defense is with their linebackers and secondary. Linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer’s production has slipped this season, but he is still one of the most imposing defensive players in the country. Thorpe Award candidates Antoine Winfield and Damon Moore anchor the team’s defensive backfield, which is arguably the best in the country. So where are the Gophers going to find success against the Ohio State defense?
Perhaps against a defensive line that has generated only 32 tackles and two sacks. Defensive linemen Rodney Bailey, Ryan Pickett, and Brent Johnson hardly strike fear into the hearts of opposing offenses, and the Gophers would be wise to exploit the Buckeyes’ most glaring weakness.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but this could be the game where running back Thomas Hamner is actually used to his full capabilities as a runner. If he finds success early, the Buckeyes will begin boxing their players in more to contain the run.
When Penn State running back Cordell Mitchell had some nice runs early in the game against the Buckeyes two weeks ago, linebacker Na’il Diggs began lining up as if he were a “contain” end.
Moore, who might be the best safety in the country, also tends to run up to the line of scrimmage when it looks like a team will run. In those situations, Persby may find the Buckeyes only have three players in coverage and will look to capitalize.
KEY MATCHUP: Gophers’ offensive line versus Ohio State defensive line. Minnesota’s key to success will be blocking. If the offensive line can pick up blitzes better than they did against Penn State, then Persby might have some time to work into a rhythm.
This is one of the few games where the Gophers’ front has the edge over an opposition’s line. If the offensive line can take on the Buckeyes mediocre front four, then Hamner could get untracked. If not, then a long afternoon is in store.

Gophers on defense
The key to stopping — or at least slowing down — the Ohio State offensive machine is to get to its brains. Quarterback Joe Germaine (1182 yards, 9 touchdowns) leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency and is the leader of an offense ranked first in the country. Running back Michael Wiley (630 yards, 5 touchdowns) is a gifted athlete with true breakaway speed, but the Buckeyes will probably be tempted to test Minnesota’s pathetic pass defense. The Gophers’ linebackers and defensive backs will have their hands full with receivers David Boston, Dee Miller, and John Lumpkin; it will be up to the front line to be productive in pressuring Germaine.
If the Gophers can get pressure, it will allow defensive coordinator David Gibbs to use more nickel packages in coverage. If not, then this game will be another laugh for the Buckeyes, who said they needed to improve after a 41-0 destruction of Illinois.
KEY MATCHUP: Defensive end Curtese Poole versus left tackle Tyson Walter. Poole has been quiet all season, and maybe a homecoming for the Columbus native will inspire him to have a breakout game. Walter (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) has followed the Buckeye tradition of great offensive tackles (Korey Stringer, Orlando Pace) and has started every game of his collegiate career. If Poole can get the better end of his duel with Walter, the Gophers may be able to put enough pressure on Germaine to keep the game close or at least respectable.