Buckeyes slaughter Gophers

Mark Remme

Ohio State’s defense didn’t break. In fact, it didn’t even bend.

The top-ranked Buckeyes allowed Minnesota’s football team 182 total offensive yards in their 44-0 win over the Gophers on Saturday.

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A deafening homecoming crowd of 105,443 at the Horseshoe were treated to a smothering performance by the Ohio State defense.

Minnesota’s offense has struggled to accumulate an average 210 yards per game in the past three weeks, and on Saturday it again failed to establish a rhythm that turned into points.

“We’ve got to expect more from ourselves than what we did today,” junior center Tony Brinkhaus said. “We’ve played some good defenses this year and fared better.”

Ohio State did give the Gophers offense chances early on.

Already down 10-0 in the first quarter with the Buckeyes inside the red zone, Minnesota senior linebacker Mario Reese recovered a fumble by junior running back Antonio Pittman on the 9-yard line.

When the Gophers failed to capitalize, Ohio State got the ball back on its own 44-yard line.

Senior quarterback Troy Smith – widely believed to be the Heisman Trophy front-runner – put the ball on the ground again, and junior defensive tackle Neel Allen recovered on the 38-yard line.

But Minnesota (3-6 overall, 0-5 Big Ten) failed to capitalize again, emphasized by a failed fourth-and-one attempt thanks to a merciless Buckeyes defense.

“Our defense continued to give us opportunities,” Brinkhaus said. “A couple times on the short field we could have definitely put points on the board and were unable to just put it in (the end zone).”

Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) swarmed every Gophers running back and wide receiver, and sophomore linebacker James Laurinaitis was in the middle of virtually every play.

Laurinaitis, a Wayzata graduate who has established himself as a leader by example in the middle of the defense, finished with 11 tackles and one sack on the day.

Coach Glen Mason said he could tell Laurinaitis was going to be a strong football player since Minnesota recruited him.

“He’s big, he’s physical, he runs well,” Mason said. “You can see he has great enthusiasm for the game – I can tell by watching him on the sideline.”

In the second half, Smith and the Buckeyes’ offense took over for their defense’s dominance.

Smith led Ohio State to a touchdown to open up the third quarter, finishing the three-play, 23-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown run.

Smith dropped back to pass, but quickly saw no one was open. He elected to scramble for yardage and ultimately weaved through a Gophers defense that was juked out of their pads.

In the game, Smith passed for 183 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 49 yards and another score, before being replaced by senior quarterback Justin Zwick in the fourth quarter.

By contrast, Minnesota did not get productivity out of its quarterback.

Senior quarterback Bryan Cupito was unproductive for the third-straight week, a streak he has rarely seen in his three years as the Gophers’ starter.

Cupito completed 13-of-25 passes for 120 yards and three interceptions.

He looked rattled for most of the game, making poor decisions while forcing passes to covered receivers.

Brinkhaus said though Cupito has gone through a difficult stretch in his senior year, he’s confident that the quarterback’s experience will eventually take over.

“He’s a fifth-year senior,” he said. “He’s got the makeup where he can bounce back and take over this team – get it going in the right direction. So I’m not worried about that.”

With the offense reeling and only three games left to play, the Gophers are a team still trying to achieve an identity.

Sophomore defensive back Dominic Jones said being winless in conference play through five games makes staying together as a team more important.

“No matter what happens in the game, we’ve got to believe in one another,” Jones said. “If we don’t have a team, if we don’t have that camaraderie, we can’t win any games.”