Laurinaitis shows why he’s one of the best

The native Minnesotan made a game-high 14 tackles at the Metrodome.

by Brian Deutsch

Ohio State junior linebacker James Laurinaitis showed why he was the Big Ten Preseason Defensive Player of the Year on Saturday when the Wayzata graduate stepped onto the turf of the Metrodome for just the second time since leading the Trojans to the 2004 Minnesota 5A state championship.

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what: Football
when: 11 a.m. Saturday
where: Bloomington, Ind.

His first homecoming came in 2005, when Laurinaitis made a season-high two tackles in the 45-31 Buckeyes win.

This time, the 6-foot-three-inch 240-pounder would make a much bigger contribution, though the result was still the same.

Last year’s Nagurski Award winner made a game-high 14 tackles (six solo and eight assisted) and was one reason Minnesota accumulated a season-low 277 yards of total offense.

Laurinaitis had only good things to say about the game, the state and the University that he nearly played football for.

“Being here, it’s fun. I have a lot of memories, you know this is where I played in my state high school championships and things like that,” Laurinaitis said. “I just wish (Minnesota) nothing but the best.”

Dreaming of the Dome

In the Metrodome’s final meeting between Ohio State and Minnesota, Gopher fans would for the eleventh and last time bear witness to a Buckeyes victory under the white-top.

Minnesota has never beaten Ohio State at home since moving to the Metrodome in 1982 and are 5-19 all-time against the Buckeyes in Minneapolis.

Ohio State picked up its 40th win against the Gophers and now holds an all-time series record of 40-7, including five straight wins, after Saturday’s game.

Minnesota will play Ohio State in Columbus for the next two seasons before the teams meet up for the first time at the TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 23, 2010.

Relief for the run

In a complete turnaround from the team’s first four games, Minnesota’s passing game had to cover for the lack of success on the ground.

After averaging 229.8 yards per game so far this season, the Gophers net 45 yards on the ground throughout the contest and actually lost seven net yards in the third quarter.

Freshman running back Duane Bennett led Minnesota with 34 yards on 16 carries.

After the game, Bennett was less than thrilled with the ground game in his first collegiate start.

Defining Moment

With 6:01 left in the game and Minnesota desperately needing to find the end zone, senior linebacker John Shevlin recovered an Ohio State fumble on the Buckeyes’ 7-yard line. But the offense was unable to cross the goal line and turned the ball over on downs, summing up Minnesota’s second-half woes.

“The holes were there today, you have to hit them when you have a chance. We did not take advantage of the chances; we had to make big plays today,” Bennett said. “They had a great defense, but I thought we had a great plan offensively.”

The plan was apparently unsuccessful though as the Gophers’ and their 15th-in-the-nation rushing offense was made irrelevant by the second-best defense in the country.

Defense improves

Although Ohio State gained a season-high 459 yards in the game, the Minnesota defense gave up a season-low 30 points.

Only Akron has held the Buckeyes to fewer points this season and much like the Zips, the Gophers lack of offensive production overshadowed an above average performance by the defense.

Quote of the Game

“I asked coach Fickell if he was going to get the courage to call it and he did. It was a message to us that we’re going to do whatever we have to do and we aren’t going to be afraid to go after this victory,”
-Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on the Buckeyes’ fake punt run that went for 29 yards and led to an eventual touchdown.

On a downside, the Gophers defensive line was again held without a sack for the fourth game in a row. The line only has one sack all season.

“The whole defensive line needs to work, but we didn’t get any sacks, which is what it’s all about,” junior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg said. “We put pressure on the quarterback, but we need to finish it off.”

’67 champs honored

Members of the 1967 Big Ten Championship team were honored at the game, including newly inducted pro football hall of famer Charlie Sanders.

Sanders and the Gophers finished the season with an 8-2 record – 6-1 in the conference – and earned a share of the conference title with Indiana and Purdue. Minnesota hasn’t won a Big Ten title since.