Gophers notebook preview: Ohio State

No. 3 Ohio State opened as a 29.5 point favorite over Minnesota this week.

Head coach P.J. Fleck celebrates on Saturday, Oct. 6 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers 48-31.

Jack Rodgers

Head coach P.J. Fleck celebrates on Saturday, Oct. 6 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers 48-31.

Jack Warrick

P.J. Fleck returns to first coaching spot

Head coach P.J. Fleck will take on Ohio State for the first time with the Gophers. But he is familiar with Ohio State’s program, as his first coaching job was as a graduate assistant in 2006 under then-head coach Jim Tressel.

“I got a chance to see Jim Tressel go 12-0,” Fleck said. “In every game we won, I was like, ‘man this coaching thing’s easy. Playing was so hard. Coaching, this is a breeze.’”

Fleck said one of his biggest takeaways from coaching under Tressel came after Ohio State lost the 2006 FBS championship to Florida 41-14.

“I’m sitting there thinking [Tressel is] the closest thing to a higher power you can get,” Fleck said. “He said, ‘boys, if we don’t get this fourth down, it’s over.’ And at that moment, I found out that anybody can get beat at any point.”

Fleck, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and defensive coordinator Robb Smith all coached at Rutgers at the same time as current Ohio State Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano. Schiano was the head coach of the Scarlet Knights from 2001-11. Fleck was the receivers coach from 2010-11, Ciarrocca was the co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach from 2008-10 and Smith was defensive coordinator and secondary coach from 2009-12. 

Fleck also served as wide receivers coach for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, during Schiano’s time as the team’s head coach.

“Where our defense really comes from is Schiano, and [Ohio State] coach [Bob] Fraser, and Robb Smith and all of us together at Rutgers at the time,” Fleck said. 

No. 3 Ohio State boasts the top offense in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have tallied an average of 565.7 total offense yards per game and their passing offense far outpaces any team in the Big Ten, with 26 passing touchdowns and an average of 364.7 yards per game. The next best receiving team in the conference is Purdue, which has nine passing touchdowns and averages 320.2 yards per game receiving.

“When you play somebody like that, that is where we want to ultimately get,” Fleck said of Ohio State. “And if you don’t really get experience by seeing it, feeling it, hearing it, experiencing it, how can you get there?”

Fleck took on Ohio State when he was the head coach of Western Michigan in 2015. His team lost 38-12 to then-No.1 ranked Ohio State. 

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer complimented Minnesota’s defense in a press conference earlier in the week.

“The best thing about [being] 6-0 is a chance to go 7-0 against a team that has a top 20 defense,’’ Meyer told reporters. “Their defense is outstanding.”

Coughlin leads with five sacks

Gophers defensive end Carter Coughlin leads the team with five sacks for 25 lost yards. Though he leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks, he has 15 total tackles through the first five games. 

Coughlin forced a fumble in last week’s game against Iowa that was almost returned for a touchdown by linebacker Thomas Barber.

“[Coughlin] loves to play the game of football. He plays with a passion. He plays with a ‘how’ out there,” Smith said. “He’s improved as a pass rusher in the offseason and throughout this season, and we’re going to … need him to get better to get to where we want to go.”

Meyer complimented Coughlin in the Ohio State press conference for his ability to rush the passer.

“They’re not a big pressure team, but they got a great pass rusher, number 45. An excellent player. And they had a tough injury to one of the best players in the conference,” Meyer told reporters, referring to Coughlin and safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

Struggling against the pass

The Gophers lost starting safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in the fourth game of the season against Maryland. Without Winfield, Minnesota allowed 314 passing yards and four passing touchdowns to the Iowa offense. 

Chris Williamson had his first start with the Gophers at cornerback. Senior Antonio Shenault, who usually plays cornerback, moved to safety to replace Winfield. 

The Gophers will play the top passing offense in the Big Ten this weekend when they go to Columbus, Ohio to play the Buckeyes (6-0). 

The Buckeyes opened as 29.5 point favorites in the spread.