Gophers ‘Buck’ losing streak

COLUMBUS, Ohio — How rare was Minnesota’s improbable 29-17 upset of then sixth-ranked Ohio State on Saturday?
Not since 1949 — two years before legendary WCCO broadcaster Ray Christensen took over on the mic — had the Gophers won at Ohio Stadium.
Not since 1981 — the year before the Metrodome opened — had Minnesota beaten a Buckeyes team.
Not since 1990 had Minnesota opened the Big Ten season 3-1 and had early sights on their first Rose Bowl appearance in almost 30 years.
And not since, well…probably never, had a Gophers coach kissed a television reporter at midfield after a victory.
So when Minnesota coach Glen Mason gave ESPN’s Holly Rowe a peck on the forehead — while his team celebrated with fans who made the long journey to Columbus — the now 22nd-ranked Gophers day at the Horseshoe was complete.
Minnesota (5-2) used an impressive combination of offense and defense, with a side of special teams work, to outgain the Buckeyes 381 yards to 200 and pull off the unthinkable:
A convincing win in Columbus.
“I don’t know if I can put this into words,” said Mason of his first win against his alma mater. “I can’t describe it.”
Mason probably wasn’t the only one in Ohio Stadium at a loss for words after the win — or just lost if you were one of the 98,120 wearing the scarlet and gray of Ohio State (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten).
The second-largest crowd in the newly-expanded Horseshoe’s history was uncharacteristically silent almost from the get-go, mainly because of what the Gophers did offensively in the first quarter to shut them up.
After receiving the opening kickoff, Minnesota put together an 18-play, 71-yard drive which took up the game’s first 6:35. Although it only resulted in a field goal, the momentum belonged to the Maroon and Gold.
Three minutes later, after a blocked punt by Jermaine Mays, the Gophers added a two-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Travis Cole to tight end Scooter Baugus.
That’s when the Minnesota dreamers turned into Minnesota believers.
“The more you quiet the crowd, the better,” said Cole, who finished the day 16 of 28 for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“The first couple of drives were very important for us. We were up 10-0 and people couldn’t believe it. But we believed we could drive on this team.”
Led by wide receiver Ron Johnson and his MacGyver-like ability to make big plays out of little, the Gophers took control.
Johnson, who went face-to-face with Nate Clements (the self-proclaimed best cornerback in the nation), made the junior wish he didn’t show up at the stadium. Clements frequently got beat like he cussed at his mother.
Johnson had six catches for 145 yards — five coming on key third down plays — by halftime. His spin-around touchdown catch with three ticks left in the first quarter gave the Gophers a 17-3 lead.
“We just threw the ball to whoever was open and we took advantage of it,” Johnson said, when asked if the Gophers were targeting Clements.
The truth was, Minnesota targeted anyone with a gray helmet. The Gophers offense scored 5.8 points more on their first three drives than Ohio State’s defense had allowed in an average game this season.
At halftime, with the Gophers jumping to a 23-10 lead, the offense offered the game to Minnesota’s defense, who gladly accepted the donation.
The result was the third straight game in which the Gophers defense handled their opponent. After giving up 38 points to Purdue, Minnesota has allowed just 43 in the past three games.
The key on Saturday was containing the Buckeyes rushing attack to just 70 yards on 35 carries.
“We were out there playing hard,” said linebacker Sean Hoffman, who had four tackles and a sack on the day. “Midway through the game we expected to win because of the way we were controlling the ball, especially on defense. I think we shut them down.”
“If you can’t run the ball in this conference, you can’t win.”
The defense also slowed Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari, although most of the blame for his 11 of 28 passing, 130 yards, was due to the fact he had trouble throwing the ball anywhere near his receivers.
The fans let Bellisari know it, continuing to boo the junior throughout the game, occasionally adding their choice of profane words.
But despite Bellisari’s poor showing and a strong Gophers defense, like any top-ten team playing at home, the Buckeyes hung around until late in the fourth — far too long for Mason’s comfort.
“You’re standing there saying ‘Here we go again,'” Mason said. “The game’s close, three and out, and you’re hanging on for dear life.”
Enter Cole and the Gophers offense one last time.
Minnesota put together another impressive 74-yard drive, capped by Tellis Redmon’s 20-yard run with 5:33 left to send the Buckeyes homecoming crowd to the their tail-gating parties early.
“We were just trying to get firstdowns,” Cole said. “But then next thing you know we’re on a huge drive; we’re scoring (six) points, which gave us the cushion.
“The fourth quarter we came up big.”
The Gophers are now one win away from becoming bowl-eligible as they sit atop the conference standings (with four other teams) with four games to play.
The “what-ifs” have already started on campus.
If Minnesota wins-out, and Purdue loses just one game, the Gophers can say hello to Pasadena. But before that happens, they wanted to say good-bye to a sorrowful Columbus.
As Mason’s postgame press conference winded down, a man carrying a crying child walked through the back door of the media room.
“There goes another Buckeyes’ guy,” Mason said. “He’s crying too, do you see that.”

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]