Minnesota prepares to play against No. 1 Ohio State

The Gophers lost to the eventual playoff champions 31-24 at home last season.

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner searches for someone to pass to on Nov. 15, 2014 against Ohio State at TCF Bank Stadium.

Bridget Bennett, Daily File Photo

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner searches for someone to pass to on Nov. 15, 2014 against Ohio State at TCF Bank Stadium.

Mike Hendrickson

To make a bowl game this year, the Gophers will have to get through some of the toughest defenses in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
 
The Gophers will face No. 1 Ohio State Saturday and then play No. 10 Iowa, and unranked Illinois and Wisconsin in their final games of the season. The Badgers currently allow the fewest points per game in the FBS. 
 
Minnesota will almost certainly need to win two of the four games in order to be eligible for the postseason.
 
“They have a very small margin for error. That’s what our kids have to be prepared for,” interim head coach Tracy Claeys said. “We have to make sure we play our brand of football and not make a lot of mistakes. If we do that, I think we showed a year ago [against Ohio State] that we’ll have an opportunity in the fourth quarter.”
 
The Gophers’ fight to make the postseason will begin against the defending national champions on Saturday.
 
Minnesota’s defense limited the Buckeyes to their lowest point total in a win last year, in a 31-24 loss at TCF Bank Stadium.
 
Senior safety Antonio Johnson said he believes Minnesota has a chance to pull the road upset on Saturday because of how close the game was a year ago.
 
“They went on to win a national championship, and we played good with them last year,” Johnson said. “We figure we can play with them this year.”
 
Minnesota nearly pulled an upset last Saturday against No. 16 Michigan, losing the game on a failed quarterback sneak on the final play. The Gophers had 461 yards in the loss, the most Michigan has allowed so far this season.
 
Redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner said the Gophers’ performance against the Wolverines has kept the team’s confidence high as they prepare for a tougher matchup. 
 
“Every game that we’ve been in, we’re a confident group. We played a lot of close games, and we’ve beaten a lot of good teams over the course of the past couple of seasons,” Leidner said. “We’re excited for the opportunity to play Ohio State this week.”
 
Ohio State has a strong offense this year and is tied for the 16th most points per game in the FBS. The team’s scoring defense is ranked fifth in the FBS.
 
The Buckeyes offense will be adjusting to a quarterback change on Saturday, with redshirt junior Cardale Jones replacing redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett after the team suspended Barrett for one game.
 
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said he still expects the game to be tough for Minnesota.
 
“They’ve got some really, really good players that we’ve got to be prepared for,” Limegrover said. “We’ve got to step up to the challenge, if not the same, even more than we did against Michigan.”
 
He said the Gophers need to play as they did against Michigan in order to keep up with the Buckeyes.
 
“We do what we need to; we hit the things we need to, and if we can execute the way we did Saturday night, we’ve got a chance,” Limegrover said.