Gophers’ offense sputters to finish

David La

When the opposition is geared to stop the run, to win you must throw. And when the opposition is throwing darts, you must throw spears.
In Saturday’s game with Ohio State, the Gophers threw rarely and without much success. As a result, they ran right into the Buckeyes’ defensive game-plan and a 20-17 loss.
Gophers quarterback Billy Cockerham, who entered the game fresh off a 100-yard rushing performance at Illinois, got the full attention of Ohio State’s defense all afternoon.
“We had success with the option and I still had a couple yards,” Cockerham said. “But in the second half (the Ohio State defense) did a lot better job.”
“We see (Cockerham) more as a runner,” Buckeyes linebacker Na’il Diggs said. “We knew he was going to run the option a lot.”
Cockerham ran for 41 yards on 10 first-half carries, and added 73 yards passing. As a whole, the Minnesota offense accumulated 187 total yards in the first half, compared to the 46 gained by Ohio State.
The ensuing two quarters would spin a completely different yarn.
“It was a game of two halves,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “They obviously played a lot better defensively in the second half than we played offensively.”
The Buckeyes offense began to pick up the pace in the second half, a direct result of a defense that turned stifling. The Gophers came out playing it close to the vest and Ohio State made them pay.
Minnesota’s ground game went bankrupt, generating only 67 yards in the final 30 minutes of play.
But it wasn’t for a lack of opportunities.
The Gophers’ play distribution in the second half mixed two passes with 19 runs, resulting in four three-and-out series.
“We made a couple halftime adjustments and basically were stopping everything they had,” Diggs said.
Perhaps due to his interception on the first drive that set up a Buckeyes touchdown, Cockerham’s right arm spent most of the game in its holster. For the game, Cockerham attempted 11 passes; Ohio State quarterbacks completed 12.
The lone successful pass reception in the second half was a table-setting 27-yard toss to Ron Johnson. The play brought Minnesota to the Buckeyes’ 7-yard line, and Thomas Hamner’s touchdown run two plays later put the Gophers ahead 17-14 with more than 16 minutes to play.
From there, the Gophers play-calling consisted of a steady diet of hand-offs. The Buckeyes defense clamped down and forced three consecutive three-and-out drives. Ohio State’s offense got far enough into Minnesota’s territory to kick two field goals, which proved enough for the victory.
After the game, a sullen Cockerham swallowed the loss like an aspirin without water.
“When you look at close games like this,” Cockerham said, “its usually things that you do to yourself. And I think there was quite a few plays where we hurt ourselves.”
In Saturday’s game, the Gophers hurt themselves more with plays they didn’t run — namely passing plays.
And by not throwing, Minnesota’s offense inadvertently threw in the towel.

David La Vaque covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]