Conditions Are Ripe For a Historic Upset in Dinkytown

Photo: Adam Bettcher – Getty Images)

Thursday night will be a special one at the University of Minnesota. For the first time in 19 months (Nov. 30 vs Wisconsin), fans will again pack the football stadium on campus, recently renamed to Huntington Bank Stadium.

Last season’s dead and gone game day atmosphere without fans in attendance will be flipped on its head tonight when Gopher fans return to “The Bank” for one of the most difficult opening matchups in school history. The Ohio State Buckeyes are ranked #4 in the country entering the season and they’re the only legitimate National Championship contender in the Big Ten. Win or lose, there’s a ton riding on this week 1 matchup for both schools.

Did you just say “win”?

How confident am I that Minnesota will pull a historic upset in Dinkytown this week? Honestly, I think that’s the wrong question for the wrong side of the midfield coin toss. The better question should be posed to Ohio State fans and media. How confident are they entering this week 1 matchup vs another Big Ten opponent?

If the polled Ohio State faithful chose honesty in their answers, they’d probably have to admit that this is the wrong year for a power five opening matchup. In fact, I will double down and bet this is the best possible time to host a game vs the buckeyes in a decade.

Why? The unknown.

Power Five Opener

Like many schools, Ohio State doesn’t normally open their season vs the cream of the college football crop. They’ve played legitimate P5 schools less than a handful of times during the Meyer/Day Era and the 2021 Gophers are probably the best of the bunch. OSU dominated Nebraska in last season’s opener, put up 71 on Oregon State in 2018, beat up Indiana in 2017 (before the Hoosiers were good) and disposed of a mediocre Virginia Tech team in 2015.

If Minnesota is the team we think they are, this will be the eldest and deepest competition the Buckeyes have faced to kickoff a season in a long time. Veteran depth is key in this conversation because youth is a big part of the 2021 Ohio State team and another reason why this is the right time to play the Big Ten powerhouse.

OSU youth at QB and on defense

Ohio State lost all four of linebackers who took meaningful snaps last season. As we all know, those LB’s will be replaced with some of the best recruits in the country for their respective classes but a wealth of stars doesn’t always translate to the field. Especially right away.

In theory, their youth at linebacker could compound the many issues Ohio State had in their secondary last season. If Minnesota’s offensive line, which is supposed to be a major strong suit, can hold up against OSU’s defensive line… Mohamad Ibrahim and Tanner Morgan could thrive. Our own Stephen Strom wrote about some of these keys to a Gopher victory earlier this week.

But Minnesota putting up points on a turned over Buckeye defense might not matter in most years. But 2021 isn’t “most years” for the Ohio State offense. Their starting quarterback, CJ Stroud, is a redshirt freshman and he’s never thrown a collegiate pass. It’s been a long time since OSU’s entered a season with a quarterback this unknown.

Even when Urban Meyer took over in 2012, he had (SO) Braxton Miller, who started as a Freshman for most of 2011, before Meyer took over.

Nobody’s ready for this new-look Gophers

The Minnesota Gophers, on the other hand, have all of the veteran depth. Unless you’re looking at the wide receiver position, which is featuring a lot of new faces and health concerns with their #1 guy, Chris Autman-Bell. Outside of WR, however, Minnesota has one of the most veteran-laced lineups in the country, both offensively and defensively.

Tanner Morgan has been taking starting snaps under center since 2018 and Mohamed Ibrahim’s been taking handoffs from him for a lot of that time. As previously mentioned, the same o-line has been blocking for both of them, too. If the passing game can keep up with the rushing attack, moving the ball shouldn’t be a problem vs this Ohio State defense.

The Minnesota defensive side struggled mightily, itself, last season. Most of that malfunction was vs opposing rushing attacks. Running backs could be seen busting through the middle of the Gopher defense multiple times per game in 2020.

So, PJ Fleck made very specific transfer portal additions up the middle in the offseason that have already appeared to payoff in camp. From what I’ve been able to watch, the defense has actually been better than the offense and should surprise opposing offenses to start the season.

Especially a young QB named CJ Stroud.

Prediction

And that’s exactly what happens Thursday night. #RTB

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan