Strong defense keys Ohio State’s undefeated record

Brian Hall

Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq received his wish.

He and the rest of the Gophers football team watched last weekend as Ohio State narrowly defeated Penn State 13-7.

The junior wanted a Buckeyes victory. He hoped the win would place more emphasis on Saturday’s Minnesota-Ohio State contest in Columbus.

The Buckeyes (9-0, 4-0 Big Ten) held up their end of the deal; now comes the hard part for the Gophers.

Abdul-Khaliq gets his shot at an undefeated squad and the top defense in the Big Ten.

“It’s the game we have been waiting for all season,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “We are the underdogs which is where we like to be. It makes us play a lot harder.

“You can’t get lulled to sleep against them. Any of those guys can make a play at any give time.”

Ohio State owns the second ranked total defense (327.1 yards per game) and rushing defense (82.2 ypg) in the conference, while it gives up only 13.9 points per game, tops in the Big Ten.

Conversely, Minnesota owns the second highest scoring offense (33.5 points per game), the third ranked total offense with 441.4 yards per game and the top rushing attack in the conference averaging 271 yards per game.

“They’ve got speed and they are talented,” Gophers co-offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. “They are solid in the secondary and at linebacker and anytime a team has the type of defensive line they do, that always helps the defense.”

The Buckeyes defensive line accounts for 14.5 of the team’s 23 sacks. Their 23 sacks are the third most in the conference

The Buckeyes feature 2002 Butkus Award semifinalist Matt Wilhelm at linebacker and the preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in safety Mike Doss.

But, a new wrinkle to the defense helped Ohio State down the Lions. For the past three contests, starting wide receiver Chris Gamble has played on the defensive side of the ball and has made a huge difference.

Gamble leads the team in interceptions with three and returned a pick in the third quarter against Penn State for the Buckeyes’ only touchdown of the game.

“He is the type of athlete who can play both positions and you don’t come across that too often,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “Especially one that is as good at corner as he is. He is a threat out there and you have to be careful when throwing to his side of the field.”

Gamble is just one of a host of players which have helped Ohio State give up 20 or more points only once in the Pigskin Classic, its first game of the season.

Meanwhile, Minnesota (7-1, 3-1) has scored under 20 points only once, in the loss to Purdue.

“It is going to be a great test because we will see where our offense is really at,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “We must capitalize on the opportunities we get, and I mean every opportunity. We will be playing an undefeated team in front of 105,000 fans. What else could you want?”

Moving on up

minnesota moved up in each of the two major polls this week, despite being idle.

In The Associated Press rankings, the Gophers improved from No. 25 to No. 23.

Meanwhile in the Coaches poll, Minnesota jumped five spots from No. 24 to No. 19.

ABC, easy as 1, 2, 3

minnesota’s matchup on Saturday with Ohio State will be televised by ABC (KSTP-TV, Channel 5) at 2:30 p.m.

The contest will mark the first time the Gophers have appeared on ABC since they hosted Penn State on Oct. 10, 1998.

Utecht honored

minnesota tight end Ben Utecht was named to the CNNSI.com 2002 midseason All-America team.

Utecht, a junior, leads the Gophers with 25 receptions. His 324 receiving yards this season is a career-high and he has five touchdowns.

Clarett probable

ohio State running back Maurice Clarett was officially listed as probable, according to a report by The Associated Press

The freshman injured his left shoulder during the first quarter of Ohio State’s victory over Penn State this weekend.

Against the Lions, Clarett carried only four times for 39 yards. The injury allowed Minnesota’s Terry Jackson II to pass Clarett in average yards per game this season (128.8-127.4). Clarett had entered last week as the leading rusher in the Big Ten.


Brian Hall covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]