Three Keys to Minnesota Upsetting Ohio State to Shock the CFB World on Thursday Night

Photo: Mike Ehrmann – Getty Images

It’s been 7 years since Ohio State has come to Minnesota and played the Gophers in a football game. Their last matchup in Minneapolis came on November 15th, 2014, when the #8 Buckeyes beat the #25 — Mitch Leidner and David Cobb led — Gophers in a back-and-forth 31-24 bout. That was the first time Minnesota kept within single digits vs Ohio State since 2001.

In fact, Minnesota hasn’t pulled out a victory over OSU since 2000 and they’ve lost 37 of their last 39 games vs the Buckeyes, dating back to 1966. So how can the Gophers, not just keep it close, but actually come out on top vs a team they haven’t beaten in 21 seasons?

After doing some of my own digging and also chatting with some really smart people, like Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch (listen to the full conversation here), I’ve come up with three keys to a Minnesota Gophers victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday night.

Minnesota’s WR’s Have to Create Big Plays

The Gophers need explosive plays from their wide receivers. That will help stretch a Buckeye defense that was susceptible vs the pass last year. It would also allow All-Big Ten running back, Mo Ibrahim (and an extremely seasoned offensive line) the room and leverage he needs to work in the trenches against a very talented OSU front-four. Last year’s Buckeyes’ pass defense ranked 122nd in the country and, unlike the d-line, their back-seven is one of the biggest questions facing Ohio State entering 2021.

The big splash plays should be there for Minnesota but can they capitalize and who will be be there to make them? With Chris Autman-Bell’s health currently a mystery, Texas A&M transfer Dylan Wright or sophomore Daniel Jackson will have to emerge on a huge stage.

Make CJ Stroud Beat You

Redshirt freshman QB CJ Stroud will be OSU’s starter on Thursday night. The spark-notes version of what I’ve learned about the California product is that he’s a strong, big player, who’s more of a passer than a runner. But, he’ll definitely use his legs and is more than competent when he has to do so.

Stroud is quietly confident and falls under the mold of Justin Fields, in terms of his leadership style. He played in three games last season and never threw a pass, though he did run for a 48-yard touchdown against Michigan State. Thursday vs the Gophers will be his first career start.

Minnesota’s defense needs to force CJ Stroud to beat them. They do that by slowing down the dynamic OSU run game. Then, force Stroud into quick decisions through the air.

We’ll quickly find out how much better the interior of this Gopher defensive line is, after the transfer additions of (DT) Nyles Pinckney – Clemson, (DT) Val Martin – NC State and (LB) Jack Gibbens – Abilene Christian. The Gophers cannot allow Master Teague’s 200 rushing yards and 3 TD’s to become the story, while Stroud completes 8 easy passes.

Plugging the middle against the run and pressuring Stroud from the interior is the key to keeping this OSU offense from rolling. Let’s not forget about the Huntington Bank Stadium’s capacity crowd, which will be trying to bust Stroud’s eardrums all night if Minnesota can keep it close.

Ohio State returns six starters from last season’s high flying offense. They include the aforementioned Master Teague and wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. The o-line returns left tackle Thayer Munford, left guard Harry Miller and right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere. This is still one of the most talented teams in the country and they’re more than capable of torching defenses. Minnesota’s will have to be near-perfect to hang.

Keep Tanner Morgan Upright

Doesn’t it feel like Ohio State always has a 5-star defensive end that could play on Sunday? It’s been Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa and Chase Young, recently. But this year, that guy could be Zach Harrison. At 6’6″, 272 lbs, Harrison is going to test the experienced Gophers offensive line with his speed, strength and athleticism. Harrison, along with Haskell Garrett and Tyreke Smith, is one of the best defensive line groups the Gophers will go up against all season. That brings me to the most important key: Protect Tanner.

You know what you’re getting from standout RB Mohamed Ibrahim, but Tanner Morgan hasn’t been that same rock of stability. But if Minnesota is able to run the ball and protect Tanner, the Gophers can beat the Buckeyes. Yes, I know that’s a giant“if” to be throwing around.

Morgan is coming off a down year, throwing for just 1,401 yards, 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 9 games. His bloated numbers (3,253 yds, 30 TD, 7 INT) from 2019 seem distant but the Gophers may not need the gawdy stats from that season to be successful in 2021. Still, more of this guy you might remember below would be very helpful in winning games.

They need Tanner to hit the occasional homerun, manage games and the locker room, while limiting his turnovers. If the line can protect him, this game will be within one possession come the 4th quarter. If not, CJ Stroud for heisman.

Stephen Strom | Minnesota Sports Fan