U readies for feisty Ohio State defense

by Murali Balaji

After giving up seven sacks in Saturday’s loss to Penn State, the Gophers’ offensive line can take heart in the fact this week’s opponent has totaled only eight sacks all season.
This week’s opponent happens to be No. 1-ranked Ohio State, however, and its defense has a way of making offenses pay without much of a pass rush.
Offensive coordinator Steve Loney said that it was key for his line to prepare for the Buckeyes front four as if they were a premier unit.
“We’ve got to prepare and improve ourselves and keep working,” Loney said. “We’ve got to do all the little things right.”
This week in practice, the Gophers will do some reshuffling along the line in an effort to find cohesion. With the return of junior tackle Pat Hau from injury, senior Jon Albrecht was demoted from starting left guard.
“(Albrecht) hadn’t been lightening up,” Loney said, referring to Albrecht’s size, which is listed at 326 pounds. “Sometimes with an offensive line you have to find chemistry. We’re still searching for the right one.”
Loney’s unit had better find it quickly. The Buckeyes’ trio of linebackers, led by 1997 Butkus Award winner junior Andy Katzenmoyer, is perhaps the best in the nation and seems primed for a big game against the Gophers’ struggling offense.
“Their trio of linebackers are big-time players,” center Ben Hamilton said. “They’re very hard to prepare for but very fun to play against.”
Katzenmoyer, a pre-season candidate for the Heisman Trophy, is not lighting up the stat sheets at this point. However, as Hamilton pointed out, taking Katzenmoyer for granted would be a monumental mistake.
“If we go easy on him, he’ll make us pay,” he said.
While Hamilton praised the Buckeye defense, he and other linemen promised a better effort than last week.
“We’re going in there with nothing to lose,” he said. “Nobody really expects us to win.”
Tackle Erik Larson, who is making his third career start this week, believes that the unit’s effort will make a difference in the game.
“We just need to go out there and give it our all,” he said. “We can’t take a play off.”
But will the Gophers’ best be enough to overcome the overwhelming talent of the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball?
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Hau said. “We’re prepared and we’re just going to stick to our game plan. We think we can come out and do some things with the football.”
The player to watch on the offensive line is Larson. After making the jump from scout team to starting unit, he will be making his third consecutive start at right tackle. With one week of blocking for QB Andy Persby under his belt, Larson pointed out the change in philosophy on offense.
“We pass a lot more with Persby and run a lot more with (Billy) Cockerham,” Larson. “We did more options with Billy.”
Because the strength of the Ohio State defense is in their back seven, the Gophers might find more success with quick-hit runs than they have in the past. If anything, they will look to improve on their woeful 4.3 yards-per-play average.
Loney wouldn’t specify any particular plan of attack, but the practices this week suggest the team plans to run the ball more to keep Persby from getting hammered in the pocket.