Loss to TCU helps Gophers prep for OSU

Minnesota will face a top-10 opponent when Ohio State comes to campus.

Gophers defensive back Jalen Myrick returns a kick against Purdue on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Amanda Snyder

Gophers defensive back Jalen Myrick returns a kick against Purdue on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Satzinger

The Gophers looked helpless when they lost to TCU 30-7 in September.

David Cobb rushed for only 41 yards, Mitch Leidner threw three interceptions and cornerback Jalen Myrick couldn’t stop high-flying TCU receiver Josh Doctson.

The Gophers will face a similar team Saturday, when No. 8 Ohio State comes to Minneapolis with athletic receivers and one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.

But behind a much-improved offensive line, Leidner has thrown deep balls with ease in Minnesota’s past few games and Cobb has emerged as one of the nation’s top running backs.

As a sophomore, Myrick has used his breakneck speed to become a solid cover cornerback.

The offensive improvement, combined with a Minnesota defense that locked down Iowa last week, has the Gophers confident in their chances of pulling an upset this weekend.

“I believe in our guys,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “I know Ohio State’s guys can run. … I believe we can cover people.”

And the 30 points Minnesota gave up to TCU’s offense doesn’t look so bad anymore. The Horned Frogs are ranked No. 4 in the country and scored 82 points against Texas Tech last month.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Gophers will shut down Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett.

Barrett was thrown into the fire after starter Braxton Miller sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in August.

The freshman was abysmal in Ohio State’s only loss early in the season, completing just nine of 29 passes while throwing three interceptions.

But just like Leidner and the Gophers have figured things out since their loss to TCU, Barrett is playing with confidence.

“This kid’s on fire right now,” Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said.

Minnesota stymied Iowa last week and found a formula to slow its power running game. When their running game staggered, the Hawkeyes’ passing attack wasn’t strong enough to get them back into the game.

But if Minnesota stops Ohio State from running the football, it had better be ready for Barrett and his talented receivers.

“The problem is with Ohio State, they’re a double-edged sword. You take the run game away from them, and they’re going to hit you over the top,” Kill said. “We haven’t seen any receivers like this since we played TCU.”

Redshirt senior defensive lineman Cameron Botticelli echoed Kill’s sentiments, describing the Buckeyes as a “mirror opposite” to the Hawkeyes.

Iowa doesn’t fool anybody with its game plan, whereas Ohio State has tricks up its sleeves.

Barrett is a lethal passer with talented receivers and a solid running back in Ezekiel Elliott. But the quarterback’s ability to run adds to the Gophers’ defensive challenge.

Last week, Barrett torched Michigan State — arguably the top defense in the Big Ten — for 300 passing yards and 86 rushing yards.

Minnesota has gotten better since losing to TCU. But now it’s time to see just how much they’ve improved.

“[Barrett is] a big guy, a big player, athletic for his size,” Botticelli said. “They have a prolific offense. It’s an exotic attack.”