2021 Game Preview: Ohio State vs Minnesota
Anything less than a Big Ten Championship and Playoff appearance would feel like a bad season for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Under Ryan Day, Ohio State has achieved both in each year he has been the head coach, and is aiming for his third straight. Ohio State is ranked 4th in both the Coaches and the AP poll, and projected by almost every analyst to make the playoff this season. 2021 will be a welcome sight from last year as fans will be now permitted in the stadium, depending on each schools COVID-19 protocols.
Redemption will be at the mind for Ohio State, who lost in the National Championship game last season to one of the best teams ever in 2020’s Alabama Crimson Tide. The game did not end the season in a similar way the Clemson loss felt, but the Buckeyes went into the game shorthanded, but the understanding of where the gap is between them and a title becomes a lot more clear. To get back to the title game though, they will need to take care of business and win their first game.
This offseason has been different than any other with the introduction of Name, Image, likeness (NIL), discussions about expanding the playoff to 12 teams, Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC potentially by 2025, and the ACC, Big Ten, and PAC-12 merging to form an Alliance to combat the power that the SEC is trying to create in the college football landscape. For Ohio State though, all they need to worry about is the team in front of them, and winning the day.
FOX will host this first of two straight games for Ohio State, and will be covering the broadcast with Joel Klatt and Gus Johnson.
Head Coach: PJ Fleck
2020 Record: 3-4 (3-4 Big Ten)
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Conference: Big Ten
Ohio State Preview: This season, Ohio State’s starting quarterback CJ Stroud will get his first start ever as a Buckeye, and replaces a two-time Big Ten player of the year and Heisman finalist Justin Fields, but that doesn’t mean the expectations for him will be any less. He beat out Jack Miller and Kyle McCord for the starting position based on his play on the field. Quinn Ewers, who enrolled early and would have been a senior this year in High School, didn’t have a chance to really challenge for the job, but expectations are that he will play this season in mop up duty. Stroud’s college experience came in the Michigan State game last year where he was able to scramble out for a touchdown run.
The running back position will be interesting to see how it will play out. Master Teague, who was the projected starter, might be playing back up or 3rd string role based on the stories coming out of camp, and Miyan Williams would be getting the nod as a starter. Freshman TreVeyon Henderson though will be in the mix, and it would not be surprising to see him have a coming out party this game, similar to JK Dobbins in the 2017 opener. It would not be surprising either to see all three running backs get some carries as they make the job easier for Stroud without needing to rely so much of the offense on the passing game.
If they do open up the passing game though, there is arguably no better squad in the country, and no duo better than the wide receivers at Ohio State. Chris Olave came back for another year with the goal of winning a National Championship, and lining up with him on the other side of the field is Garrett Wilson. Both players are on the radar for the best wide receiver in the country, and could both break 1000 yards receiving this season. Behind them is an embarrassment of riches of 4 and 5 star talent with Julian Fleming, Marvin Harrison Jr, Emeka Eqbuka, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Don’t count out the tight-ends either with Jeremy Ruckart, Cade Stover, and converted wide-receiver Gee Scott Jr, who should give Stroud more options than he will know what to do with.
The offensive line will look a little different as Thayor Munford will slide down to guard, and Dawand Jones will play at the left tackle position. If there was any worry after losing Tommy Togiai to the draft last year with the defensive line, there is no need to worry, as they will be fine with Pre-Season All-American Haskell Garrett, Zach Harrison, Jack Sawyer, and JT Tuimoloau. The linebackers will have some fresh faces, but there will be a lot of talent to support them with a deep secondary. The defense might play more of a nickel scheme as their base defense with 4 lineman, 2 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs. As of Tuesday, Ohio State was still awaiting word from the NCAA about USC transfer linebacker Palaie Gaoteotee
Minnesota Preview: PJ Fleck has created a culture within the team, and every team he has been at with the “Row the Boat” mantra, and the Gophers have embraced that blue collar approach. Minnesota is hoping the 2021 season is more like the 2019 season than the 2020, as they seemed to have taken a step back in production, but with a limited offseason for the Big Ten, it was hard for any team to create a pattern or habit of normalcy.
Expectations will be high for Tannor Morgan, and the Gopher faithful is hoping he will look like he did in 2019 where he threw for 30 touchdowns and 3253 passing yards. n 2020, he managed to only complete 57.9 percent of his passes after throwing for 1,374 yards, seven touchdowns and five picks in seven games.
The star of this offense though is running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who returns for a redshirt senior season after rushing for 153.7 yards per game on average last year. In just seven games, Ibrahim totaled 1,076 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, and finished the season as a third-team AP All-American as one of the top backs in America.
He will run behind one of the biggest offensive lines in the country, and experience guards Connor Olson, and Blaise Andries. Tanner Morgan will have familiar faces at receiver with Chris Autumn-Bell and tight end Ko Kieft. The offense will have 10 returning started on the offensive side of the ball, and 10 starters on the defense. The experience should make Minnesota a competitor in the West, and this game could be the first of two match ups in the season.
Buckeye Spotlight: CJ Stroud. He came out of the spring game as the top guy, and earned his starting roll in fall camp. If he is everything he is expected to be, Stroud should have season that will lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and a playoff berth. No pressure though right? Yes it is the first game, but this is where he can prove his quarterbacking skills are good enough to guide Ohio State to its first title since 2014.
Gopher Spotlight: Mohamed Ibrahim. The senior running back will be the workhorse for this team, after having a big season last year despite only playing 7 games. He will be important to Minnesota’s game plan to keep the Buckeye offense off the field.
Water Cooler Stat of the Game: 114-12-4. Ohio State is 114-12-4 in season openers since it began playing football, and have not lost a game since 1999 when they played Miami (FL). This is also the first time since 2017 where they start the season on the road against a Big Ten opponent, when they played Indiana.
Prediction: This game will be under the lights, and for both teams, this game officially starts the season despite a few games being played the previous weekend for “Week 0.” Ohio State fans might not be as big of a factor as Minnesota Athletics reported that visiting fans have returned a good portion of tickets (most likely due to the travel and game on a weekday) but if you ask linebacker and team captain Teradja Mitchell, the team is not worried as they will “bring their own juice.” The Buckeyes have the athletes that this game should not be in question, it will just be a matter of how they plan on easing CJ Stroud into the offense, and getting him enough confidence going into the next game. This will be a match up about ball control, as both teams will want to impose their physical play against the other, but Ohio State has the edge on both sides of the ball in the trenches, and will be the difference maker in this game. Expect a lot of running backs playing on both teams.
Ohio State 49 – Minnesota 21
Photo Credit to Ohio State Football – Youtube