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Minnesota limited Ohio State’s top receiver despite their loss

The Minnesota Gophers secondary had their toughest assignment on Saturday in stopping wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
Image by Gophers Athletics (courtesy)
The Gophers faced one of the most talented players in college football.

Minnesota headed to Columbus, Ohio to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes, the No. 2 team in the country, who roster one of the most talented players in college football: Marvin Harrison Jr.

The Gophers’ secondary had their hands full defending CBS Sports’ projected fourth overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. He is an explosive and intelligent route runner with every attribute and skill a coach could wish for in a wide receiver.

The Gophers held Harrison Jr. to three catches for 30 yards and a touchdown, a touchdown that tied Harrison Jr. with Devin Smith for third in all-time career touchdown receptions at 30.

Minnesota’s secondary bracketed Harrison Jr. all game, holding him in check until Ohio State’s rushing attack put the game out of reach.

On the season, Harrison has 62 receptions for 1,093 yards and 13 touchdowns. His strongest performance was in a 38-3 win over Michigan State, where he caught seven passes for 149 yards and scored three touchdowns in total. In the win, Harrison became the first Buckeyes receiver to have multiple 1,000-yard seasons.

“To be the first ever to do something in Ohio State history, especially as a receiver, that means a lot, and I’m super blessed,” Harrison said after the Michigan State game on Nov. 11.

The star wide receiver has registered 100 or more yards in seven out of Ohio State’s 10 games this season.

Whether it is drawing double teams or making a play when Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord is scrambling, Harrison finds a way to impact the game. Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck, during a press conference Monday morning, added to this sentiment.

“Obviously, he is one of the best pass catchers, but it’s what he does even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands that makes him an elite receiver,” Fleck said. “[It is] understanding different route concepts and who he’s affecting and why he’s running the route.”

The Gophers were fresh off a 49-30 loss to Purdue, where Purdue quarterback Hudson Card threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns.

Ohio State is composed of talent that includes receivers Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka, who were five-star prospects coming out of high school. Egbuka found open space with Harrison Jr. doubled, racking up five catches for 83 yards to lead the Buckeyes.

Cade Stover, the team’s second-leading receiver and tight end, was active as well, catching four passes for 26 yards and a touchdown. The complement of wide receivers available for McCord eased the burden of picking apart the Gophers defense.

During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said Minnesota did not want Harrison to be the one to beat them and the Buckeyes know how to utilize his versatility.

“You don’t ever just solely take [Harrison] away, those types of guys you just don’t make disappear,” Rossi said. “I think what you have to be able to do is keep them from beating you. They move him around, having him play inside and outside, all over the field, they get him the ball on short, intermediate and deep routes.”

One of the players Minnesota leaned on to limit Harrison is safety Tyler Nubin. While there was always a cornerback lined up right across from him, Minnesota would always send safety help.

On the year, Nubin allowed the lowest completion rate in college football at 23.1% heading into the week, according to PFF.

Gophers cornerbacks Justin Walley and Tre’Von Jones played a role in slowing down the timing on Harrison’s routes through press coverage and tight coverage. Their role in diminishing one of the Big Ten’s most successful offenses held up for the first half, but TreVeyon Henderson’s 75-yard rushing touchdown to start the second half put the game away.

The Gophers lost 37-3 against Ohio State on Saturday afternoon and now return home to host the Wisconsin Badgers, still looking to secure bowl eligibility.

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  • Steve Craine
    Nov 20, 2023 at 11:19 am

    I appreciate the “let’s find something positive “ approach of this story. The MPLS press seems to focus on the negative in this year’s team at every opportunity?