Minnesota faces Ohio State legacy

by David La

Though his team will enter Saturday’s game with Ohio State as a two-point favorite, Minnesota football coach Glen Mason lives with the reality that the Gophers are a perennial underdog.
Mason preaches the need for his players to stay up for each game during the season, game 1 through game 11.
Northwestern? Penn State? It doesn’t matter to Mason.
His approach belies the one that the legendary Woody Hayes — Mason’s coach at Ohio State — believed in.
“In the days when I was at Ohio State with Coach Hayes, he used to talk about the ‘red letter games’,” Mason said. “You knew as a player and as a coach those were the games you really had to get up for.”
Whether Mason likes it or not, Saturday’s game between the No. 24 Gophers (5-1 overall, 2-1 in the Big Ten) and No. 22 Ohio State (4-3, 1-2) is a biggie. One to write in red. Minnesota — which lost to the only other ranked opponent it’s faced in Wisconsin — are out to make an Ohio State-ment.
Without consternation of the history-rich opponent.
“We’re not playing a legacy,” Gophers running back Thomas Hamner said. “We’re playing the ’99 Buckeyes.”
From that standpoint, Minnesota fares well. Since coach Joe Salem’s team crafted the Gophers’ last win over the Buckeyes in 1981, an 0-and-15 spell has been cast over Minneosta.
These days, it seems the talented Buckeyes are the ones reeling from a dose of strange brew.
Ohio State has turned over the ball 20 times this season. By comparison, the Gophers have 10 giveaways.
“When you turn the ball over as many times as we have, that is probably the number one criterion I look at when we decide if you win or lose the football game,” Buckeyes coach John Cooper said.
Even more harmful than the 20 possessions lost this season was the loss of 11 players prior to the season.
Eight NFL draft picks last spring coupled with three recent flunk-outs left the Buckeyes as two-deep as a wading pool.
A lackluster 23-10 loss at Penn State last weekend has left Ohio State in a precarious situation — the loss of an indestructible aura.
But Mason is not buying into talk of a Columbus collapse.
“I don’t see a team in disarray at all,” Mason said. “Obviously the 4-3 record, with the expectations at Ohio State, no one’s happy about that. Least of all coach Cooper.”
It’s unlikely that Ohio State will come into the Metrodome fearing the Gophers. So what happens if the Buckeyes come out firing, score two or three times, and lead by 10 or more at the half? Gophers defensive tackle Dyron Russ’ message is prudence.
“I’m a firm believer in what Coach Mason said, ‘You don’t get lap money,'” Russ said. “If you’re winning in the first quarter or you’re winning at halftime, it doesn’t matter. You keep fighting until the game is over.”
And when the game is over, opponents come together for a handshake and maybe a kind word or two of encouragement.
Except for last year.
The Buckeyes were apparently rude hosts, refusing to shake the hands of the Gophers following a 45-15 Ohio State win.
And you’d better believe that Minnesota remembers.
“To me respect is everything, and when they did that, it was very disrespectful,” Hamner said. “We demanded respect and sometimes the only way to get that is to take it.”
With all the troubles Ohio State has with holding on to the football, this might be the year for the Gophers to snatch some respect, too.
And by the way, a win would make Minnesota eligible for a bowl game.
“It is a monumental day when you go from a loser to a winner,” Mason said.
A red-letter day to be exact.
ù Will call will be at gate B, and will open at 8 a.m. Tickets will be sold at gates F and H. The plaza will open at 9 a.m. and gates open at 9:30.

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