Tale of the Tape may be in a new location but I can assure you it is the same deep dive into the weekly opponent for the Buckeyes with the good, the bad and of course the ugly.
Week one of any season is so difficult with no previous games to look back to but 2021 provides an even more difficult challenge when it comes to looking at teams, Big Ten teams in particular, due to the fact that the disjointed season of 2020 doesn’t give us a clear picture of what these teams were really made of. Take Penn State for example, was that team better represented by the squad that lost its first five games of the season or the squad that won its final four?
Ohio State’s week one opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, are another enigma wrapped up in a riddle. 2019 saw PJ Fleck’s team run out to an 11-2 record, a bowl win over Auburn and high hopes going into 2020.
Then 2020 hit and the wheels came off the rowboat, the Gophers dropped their first two games including a particularly bad loss at Maryland, got routed by Iowa, had a pair of games canceled and had a season-saving game against Wisconsin slip out of grasp in a 20-17 overtime decision.
Are we supposed to just take the 2020 tape for Minnesota, dig a hole, bury it and forget about it?
The Buckeyes have owned this series through the years, leading it 46-7, winners of the last 11 games and undefeated in Minneapolis since 1981 (Ryan Day would have been two-years-old when Minnesota last beat Ohio State at home).
These two teams have not played since the 2018 season and the last three games have all been decided by two scores or less with the last game at Huntington Bank Stadium (formerly TCF Bank) decided by just a touchdown.
History is all well and good but Thursday’s game won’t be decided by history, be it from just a year ago or a 31-24 game back in 2014.
As Mother Teresa once said…
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
And with that, we begin our first Tale of the Tape here at BuckeyeScoop.
|Rush Defense||97.6 YPG||6th||Rush Offense||191.9 YPG||42nd|
|Pass Eff. Defense||143.07||87th||Pass Offense||199.1 YPG||92nd|
|Scoring Defense||25.8 PPG||T-43rd||Scoring Offense||27.3 PPG||71st|
Ohio State Defensive Backs vs. Minnesota QB/WR/TE
Is the game going to be this simple? Is this where the rubber will meet the road? It might be too simplistic to just wave a wand and say that Ohio State is going to put up X amount of points and take away the Minnesota run and that this game will come down to what Tanner Morgan is able to do against Ohio State’s reworked secondary. But then again, it may be that simple. A more difficult question may be determining what Ohio State’s secondary rotation will look like. Names like Josh Proctor, Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown all seem to be pretty safe bets, but that is just three of either four or five names based on who Ohio State will have out there in base personnel. And then we also know that Ohio State likes to rotate players in and out of the lineup. Where do names like Lathan Ransom, Lejond Cavazos, Ryan Watts and several others fit into the mix? Ohio State’s pass defense last year was a work-in-progress that never found its best version of itself. Injuries, position changes and really a lack of preparation time due to COVID all played factors but excuses aside, the unit did not play well and teams found a rare weakness in the Ohio State defense. All eyes will be on Kerry Coombs, entering second year in his second stint with the Buckeyes as Coombs has shed his position coach title and takes on the role as the full defensive coordinator after the retirement of Greg Mattison. The Buckeyes gave up 400-plus yards via the air three times last season including the final two games of the year (Clemson, Alabama). That is not going to fly if this team has championship aspirations, which every team out of Columbus does. Minnesota will prove to be a bigger challenge than a middling MAC or lower tier Sun Belt team would bring in a traditional opening game.
Tanner Morgan goes into his fourth season playing for the Gophers and 2020 was a bit of a step backwards in terms of numbers but with the oddity of 2020, that probably is not a surprise in many instances. After a stellar 2019 season where Morgan had 30 touchdowns against just seven picks he would go for seven touchdowns and five picks in 2020, see his completion percentage fall from 66-percent to 58-percent and just an overall downgrade of game performance as the Gophers struggled to a 3-4 record. Minnesota is going to need Chris Autman-Bell to be ready to go for this game and news has been encouraging after it was feared that he might miss early season action and now finds himself more in the day-to-day category. Autman-Bell was second on the team in receptions and yardage and was tied for second in touchdowns, but with five receivers being tied for just one touchdown, and the leader (Rashod Bateman) sitting with two, the touchdown numbers were quite unremarkable. The aforementioned Bateman is off to the NFL and with the Baltimore Ravens so the former No. 1 weapon is out of the picture and that means that Daniel Jackson will need to step up. The 6-foot, 200-pouder was third on the team last year and will have to step into that No. 2 roll with Texas A&M transfer Dylan Wright on his heels. The question is where does the production come beyond that? Just looking solely at 2020 numbers, the cupboard is bare but undoubtedly someone always steps up but can that be expected in game one of the season against a team like Ohio State? What kind of numbers does Minnesota need to put up in the throw game to be successful? It is not as much of a matter of hitting a certain number of yards or completions but the passing game has to be effective enough to force Ohio State to loosen up the box and open up running lanes for a talented running back, someone we will speak of in a second.
Ohio State Linebackers vs. Minnesota Running Backs
The first question needs to be who will be out there at linebacker for Ohio State in this game. Gone are players like Tuf Borland, Baron Browning, Justin Hilliard and Pete Werner and the Buckeyes now are looking to the next generation of players including the likes of Teradja Mitchell. Secondly, how often will we see two backers out there and how much will we see three in more of a traditional 4-3 front? That obviously will be dictated by what Minnesota is trying to do and what types of situations that the Ohio State defense can put the Gophers’ offense in. This is not going to be as simple as naming two or three guys and just riding with them, look for Ohio State to have its starting group and then substitute liberally with players that are game ready as the linebacker battle is something that will go into overtime all of the way into the season. One thing that should not be up for debate is Ohio State’s ability to shut down the run, something that has long been a hallmark of Buckeye defense. Only two teams last season broke the 150-yard mark with Alabama doing so in the championship game and then Nebraska in week one, with most of those yards landing between the 20s and not resulting in points in a 52-17 Ohio State win. There will be no chance to ease into things as Ohio State draws its toughest challenge in terms of an individual running back in week one with the Gophers.
Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim has eight-straight 100-yard-plus games dating back to the 2020 Outback bowl against Auburn, including the entire 2020 season for Minnesota. Few running backs have success against Ohio State but Ibrahim is one that can put that feather in his cap from a 2018 meeting with the Buckeyes where he rushed for 157 yards and two scores on 23 carries in a 30-14 Ohio State win. That 2018 Ohio State team, despite going 13-1 on the season was No. 56 nationally against the run over the course of the season, allowing 158.2 yards per game. Last season Ibrahim carried the ball at least 20 times in every contest and broke the 150-yard mark three times including a robust 224-yard game against Illinois. While any results against the Illini seem less than impressive don’t sleep on the fact that Ibrahim and his Gophers ran against a pair of top-10 national run defenses with Wisconsin (No. 5) allowing 151 yards and Iowa (No. 10) allowing 144 yards. Neither of those teams allowed a rushing touchdown to Ibrahim, meaning that in the other five games, the Minnesota back averaged three scores per game. The Gophers have a pair of 210-pounders in reserve with Trey Potts and Cam Wiley, so look for Minnesota to try and test the Ohio State run defense in this one and attempt to keep the Ohio State offense off the field.
Ohio State Defensive Line vs. Minnesota Offensive Line
There is no shortage of excitement to see who steps up on the Ohio State defensive line this season with a lot of young talent looking to make their first entries into the Ohio State record books and some veteran talent looking to make this the year to remember for their own individual chapters. Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison are both looking for this to be the breakout season while young guys like Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau are hoping to see game one action in their freshman seasons. Ohio State will be without Tyler Friday for much, if not all, of the 2021 season and that will make contributions from younger players all the more important. Ohio State’s sack numbers were off from the past three seasons, more than 1.2 per game from the 2019 total, getting to the quarterback will be all the more important as Ohio State breaks in much of a new back seven on defense. The Buckeyes got a huge lift with the return of Haskell Garrett and his veteran leadership will help solidify a defensive tackle position that has been through the wars with players like Taron Vincent, Antwuan Jackson and Jerron Cage within the two-deep. In season openers over the past five seasons the Buckeyes have averaged 3.8 sacks per game including five in 2018 (Oregon State) and 2017 (Indiana), do you like the over or under on that number?
Last season the Gophers gave up 1.86 sacks per game, good for 43rd in the nation, better than Ohio State’s 2.62 per contest. The Gopher offensive line will be one of the better ones in the conference and it is punctuated by the tandem of Connor Olson and Blaise Andries. It is not often that a pair of guards take the highlights away from offensive tackle, but that is going to be the case here. That does not mean that players like Sam Schlueter, John Michael-Schmitz and Daniel Faalele should be ignored, especially with Faalele hovering around the 400-pound mark (the press guide has him at a slim 380 currently) but the two guards have proven to be more well-regarded. This is a veteran group, seniors across the board with Olson and Schlueter both utilizing 6th years of eligibility and Faalele coming back after opting out of the 2020 season. This promises to be an entertaining battle as Larry Johnson will be rotating pieces in and out of the lineup to take on this talented and veteran group.
|Rush Offense||256.9 YPG||8th||Rush Defense||207.1 YPG||102nd|
|Pass Offense||262.5 YPG||37th||Pass Eff. Defense||141.68||86th|
|Scoring Offense||41.0 PPG||11th||Scoring Defense||30.1 PPG||70th|
Ohio State QB/WR/TE vs. Minnesota Defensive Backs
We know who is rolling out for the first series for Ohio State with CJ Stoud being named the starter in late August, winning the battle against Kyle McCord, Jack Miller and Quinn Ewers for the position. It will be a chance for Stroud to throw his first collegiate pass after appearing in a pair of games during the 2020 season either handing the ball off or calling his own number. Ohio State’s wide receiver group will be on display for the first time of the season and all eyes will be on Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson but will a player like Marvin Harrison Jr. be able to get into the mix in his first game? Jaxon Smith-Njigba burst on to the scene in 2020 and Harrison could have that same impact this season but of course it does open up the question of how do the Buckeyes find plays for younger guys without sacrificing the best receiver tandem in the nation with Olave/Wilson? With everything else in this group, don’t forget about Jeremy Ruckert coming back for another season. Ryan Day jokingly said at Big Ten Football Media Days that he was going to make sure that Ruckert broke the 30-reception mark, that challenge starts here in game one. It is pretty safe to say that Billy Anders’ mark of 55 in the 1966 season will be safe, as will John Frank’s career mark of 121 for a tight end in the early-80s. Over the past five season openers, the Buckeyes have averaged (as a team) 315 passing yards and 4.2 touchdowns per game. Those might be lofty numbers with a league game, on the road, with a first-time starter. With Minnesota’s struggles against the run last season, will the Buckeyes ask Stroud or any of the other quarterbacks to throw that much? That remains to be seen but know this, the Ohio State passing game is poised for a big season.
The Gophers have a good one in cornerback Coney Durr but where do they line him up? If you focus on Olave, what does that mean for Wilson, and vice versa. Durr does not have a lot of size at 5-foot-10, but then again, neither did Antoine Winfield Jr. and he did just fine. His fellow corner, Terell Smith, has some size at 6-foot-1, but will be seeing significantly more action this year than he did last season where he played in five games but was only credited with three tackles. Safeties Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden are both more than capable of making big plays for the Gophers as Minnesota is looking to bounce back from a pretty poor 2020 season on the defensive side of the ball. 2019 saw the Gophers only give up 14 passing touchdowns over 13 games, the Gophers gave up 11 over just seven games in 2020. Ultimately it is going to come down to how teams decide to attack this defense. Was the 2019 season just the outlier? The numbers from previous seasons seem to lend credence to that. Or did the Gophers figure something out that season, face a lot of setbacks, as did many teams, in 2020, and 2021 is a new season and a pick-up from 2019? That remains to be seen. Great pass defense and Minnesota have not been in the same sentence many times over the past 20 years, so until we see it with our own eyes this week, color us skeptical.
Ohio State Running Backs vs. Minnesota Linebackers
Who will get the first snap for the Buckeyes at running back this season? Will Master Teague see that first series as the crafty veteran, or will “Pork Chop” Miyan Williams see the field first? It seems unlikely that true freshman TreVeyon Henderson will leapfrog both for the first snaps, but don’t sleep on this guy as the Buckeyes will look to put several guys out there and see what they can do as Ohio State looks to replace Trey Sermon from last season and reestablish the run game in support of a new starting quarterback. We have talked about all of the running backs at length leading up to the season, seen Steele Chambers move to linebacker and gone through the pros and cons of each member of the running back room. Now it is put-up or shut-up time at the position. Over the past five season openers the Buckeyes have averaged 51 carries, 297 yards and 3.8 scores per game. Those five games saw leading rushers that included Sermon, JK Dobbins and Mike Weber. Who is going to fill that role here in week one and will the Buckeyes go after a run defense that was among the nation’s worst last year and see if they can stop the run?
Assuming that the base for Minnesota is the 4-2-5 once again, we only have to really look at a few players here and that might be for the best as the 2020 linebacker performance for Minnesota was less than good. Mariano Sori-Marin had a team-high 54 tackles but that’s about all you can about the position group. Will Sori-Marin hold on to his spot or will Jack Gibbens wrestle that spot away? Gibbens previously played at Abilene Christian and made his way to Minnesota via transfer. During his time at ACU, Gibbens had 258 tackles, 22.5 TFLs, seven sacks and five interceptions. The Big Ten is going to be a little bit different than the Southland Conference and we will see how quickly “football becomes football” for the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder. When it comes to the WLB position, will it be Braelin Oliver, James Gordon or someone else that steps up? Any way you slice it, it will be a younger guy but Oliver is coming off of an injury and the hope is that he can step up and lock it down after missing the 2020 season. How bad was the Minnesota run defense last year? Michigan ran for 256 yards on 31 carries and five scores in the season opener. That same Michigan team would rank No. 95 in the nation in rushing offense when the year drew to a close. Even Purdue and its No. 124 in the nation rushing offense would run for 125 yards and a score on this rushing defense as every team that played Minnesota would net at least one touchdown on the ground over the course of seven games. No team would attempt more than 36 carries against this defense, just imagine if a team came in and decided that it really wanted to try and hammer the run and go for 50 rushing attempts.
Ohio State Offensive Line vs. Minnesota Defensive Line
Of all the positions out there this is the one I am most excited to see, I want to see how this Thayer Munford to guard, Dawand Jones to tackle line configuration is going to fare. That is not me saying that I am doubtful, I am very bullish on this move, if the staff believes that it is the way to go, having tackles of Jones and Nick Petit-Frere, guards of Munford and Paris Johnson and Harry Miller at center. It is always about getting your five best out there, provided that you have them in their best positions. If Munford, a preseason All-American at tackle better at guard? Well, if Jones is your next best option out there and you can get Jones out there with the move, then why not give it a shot? There will be some challenges in this game for week one but everything is going to be a built up for week two and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, and what comes from that match-up. Will Minnesota be able to disguise blitzes and confuse a young Ohio State quarterback? This is going to put a lot of pressure on a talented, yet reworked, line to do everything in its power to protect Stroud or whoever is in at any given point of the game. The Buckeyes gave up an uncharacteristic amount of sacks last year but also had different line combinations on the field almost every week and had a quarterback in Justin Fields who extended plays longer than the average quarterback would ever dream of doing. This should be just enough of a challenge for Ohio State to learn a thing or two but not enough of one where there should be a great deal of concern.
Minnesota was busy in the transfer market and defensive tackle Nyles Pickney may be the biggest name as he moves on from Clemson to Minnesota. Over the course of his career he has close to 100 career tackles, three sacks and more than a dozen TFLs. Pickney played against Ohio State in the CFP semifinal game and had three tackles in Ohio State’s 49-28 win. He will be flanked by DeAngelo Carter, a young player who saw his first extended run last season where he had 16 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception. A pair of RS seniors will hold down the end positions with Boye Mafe and Esezi Otemewo. Mafe had 4.5 sacks last season, a rare bright spot on a defense that did little. Minnesota as a team only had eight sacks over the course of seven games, so Mafe had more than half of those on his own. The question is how will this line do against a mammoth Ohio State offensive line and while the inside of the line will be fine in terms of checking in around the 290-300-pound range, how will the ends fare against players like Petit-Frere and Jones?
|Net Punt||39.87 YPP||39th||35.93 YPP||102nd|
|Punt Return||6.20 YPR||72nd||0.80 YPR||123rd|
|Kickoff Return||13.29 YPR||126th||17.33 YPR||110th|
|FG Percentage||7-11 (63.6%)||N/A||4/6 (66.7%)||N/A|
The first Tale of the Tape of the season is always a challenge and there is nothing more difficult to predict out than special teams. Ohio State could roll out either Noah Ruggles or Jake Seibert at place kicker but the hope is that it will be for PATs and not field goals. Jesse Mirco has been transitioning to the college football game and should see his first action as well. The biggest question is who will be in the return game and could names like Demario McCall be joined by young guys like Emeka Egbuka?
Minnesota’s special teams appeared to be horrible last season outside of placekicking. Ranking in the bottom 25 in net punt, punt return and kickoff return… we didn’t dare dig any deeper than that.