Buckeyes justify No. 1 ranking again

Murali Balaji

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If anything can be learned from the Gophers’ 45-15 loss to Ohio State Saturday, it’s that overwhelming talent at every position wins football games.
The No. 1-ranked Buckeyes, by their own admittance, played a lackluster ball game. But they still had enough in them to blow away struggling Minnesota.
However, Ohio State head coach John Cooper gave the Gophers credit for forcing three turnovers against his team, including a blocked punt that rolled into the end zone for a safety.
“It’s inexcusable to have the No. 1 ranked team in the country to have a punt blocked,” Cooper said.
“Minnesota is a scrappy football team. We got a lot of yards but didn’t get as many points as we’d like.”
While the Gophers played the Buckeyes better than expected, their vaunted rush defense — ranked first in the Big Ten entering the game — was overwhelmed by Ohio State running backs Michael Wiley (119 yards, 1 touchdown) and Joe Montgomery (67 yards, 1 touchdown).
The Buckeyes began the game using four-receiver sets in an effort to spread the Gophers’ defense out. By making safety Tyrone Carter slide over to cover the passing lanes, the Ohio State lineman were able to open holes for the explosive Wiley, who is on his way to having one of the best seasons ever for a Buckeyes running back.
“The offensive line did just a great job of opening up holes for us,” Montgomery said. “It was just up to me and Mike to follow what they gave us.”
The 225 yards rushing were the most given up by the Gophers this year, but the real story of the game was the phenomenal performance of receiver David Boston, who tore up the overmatched Gophers’ secondary for 191 yards and two touchdowns on ten receptions.
“A lot of times I was matched up one-on-one with their DB’s,” Boston said. “We saw what Purdue did and tried to create mismatches against them.”
What Boston and the Buckeye offense saw was that the Gophers were out of their element when they were spread out. The Gophers like using Carter and their linebackers to stack against the run, but in four-receiver sets, they are forced to play out of their short-yardage comfort zone.
Offensively, Minnesota was able to get production out of receiver Luke Leverson and saw further improvement of quarterback Andy Persby, who kept the passing game in sync before being replaced by Billy Cockerham in the fourth quarter.
However, the Buckeyes kept pressure on the Gophers’ offense throughout much of the game, gambling on the fact that the running game would not be much of a factor.
“Anytime we play a young QB, we’ve got to keep them from getting into a comfort zone,” said linebacker Jerry Rudzinski, whose hit on Cockerham led to an errant pass that was picked off and returned for a touchdown by safety Central McClellion.
“We tried to bluff around and move our players to confuse (Cockerham),” Rudzinski said. “As the pass play developed, I got through clean.”
Earlier in the game, the Gophers did try to revitalize their sagging running game, but neither Thomas Hamner nor Byron Evans could find any running room with Buckeyes stacked against the run.
Linebackers Rudzinski, Andy Katzenmoyer, and Na’il Diggs filled the gaps with delayed run blitzes, and the Buckeye defensive line did an effective job of occupying the Gophers’ offensive line. Midway through the second quarter, Glen Mason abandoned the run and relied on the arm of his sophomore quarterback.
Persby then began looking to Leverson, whose 12 receptions for 108 yards was a career-high. Leverson, matched up all day against cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Antoine Winfield, kept moving the chains with short out and hitch patterns.
“He’s a good receiver,” Plummer said of Leverson. “He came out there and ran some really good routes against us.”