Gophers looking for Ron Johnson to make big plays against Buckeyes

Last week it was the halfback pass which did in Penn State’s football team. This Saturday it will take much more for the Gophers to do in sixth-ranked Ohio State.
Minnesota draws the best defense in the conference this weekend. The Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) allow a league best 11.2 points a game — 6.5 points lower than the next best, which just happens to be the Gophers.
So if Minnesota (4-2, 2-1) is to put some points on the board in the Horseshoe, the offense will need to dig back into the bag of tricks against the persistent Buckeyes defense which has allowed just seven touchdowns in five games.
“The only way to get them out of their aggressive mode is to hit a couple of big plays on them,” Gophers quarterback Travis Cole said.
If the big play is what Minnesota is drawing up, then the Gophers will likely look no further than junior wide receiver Ron Johnson as the man to build it around.
Johnson was on the receiving end of the halfback pass against the Lions. The touchdown reception was his sixth of the season and 17th in his career at Minnesota.
One more touchdown catch and Johnson will pass Tutu Atwell as the Gophers all-time end-zone leader.
The impact Johnson has made at wideout for the Gophers is something Minnesota coach Glen Mason is happy to see — and talk about.
“There hasn’t been a day since we started in August he hasn’t packed his lunch, come out and worked extremely hard,” Mason said. “He dives for passes out in practice sometimes. If a guy does that he might hurt himself, but that’s just the way he is.”
The toughness Johnson brings to the table has earned him respect throughout the Big Ten — a conference traditionally known for its smash-mouth running backs.
Last week, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said Johnson could play wide receiver for anyone in the country. Minnesota’s opposing coach this week — Ohio State’s John Cooper — is in agreement.
“Ron is a good player — a big strong wide receiver,” Cooper said. “He reminds me a lot of David Boston. In fact he may be a little taller and bigger.”
Johnson’s size, speed and a bit of trickery could be just what the Gophers offense will need to utilize in order to put the points on the board needed to beat the Buckeyes.
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind we can score,” Johnson said. “We’re a high powered offense. If everyone does what they have to do then we’ll win.”
Big Ten stats
ù Punter Preston Gruening continues to lead the conference in punting at 46.7 yards per attempt.
ù Defensive linemen Karon Riley and Greg White are each tied for fourth in the conference with four sacks. Three players have five on the season.
ù Cornerback Trevis Graham is tied for second in the Big Ten with a pair of forced fumbles. Two players have forced three.
John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]