Establish the run
The Buckeyes’ run game has sputtered lately. Some of that is opponents stacking the line of scrimmage to make Ohio State one-dimensional, foolish as that may be considering the potency of the Buckeyes’ passing game. But that isn’t entirely the issue. Ohio State hasn’t found a reliable way to pick up crucial short-yardage first downs the way it did with J.T. Barrett running things. Ohio State’s offensive line is huge, so it should be able to move opposing linemen off the ball. Minnesota’s front seven is pretty stout, and that will be a challenge this week.
Minnesota quarterback Zack Annexstad is a nice story — a walk-on who became a starter as a true freshman. But Annexstad has had his growing pains, as one would expect. He has a low completion percentage and isn’t a significant threat as a runner. Dual-threat quarterbacks such as Penn State’s Trace McSorley and Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey tend to give the Buckeyes more trouble than pure pocket passers. Ohio State’s pass rush wasn’t impressive last week against the Hoosiers. If the Buckeyes can pressure Annexstad into sacks and hurried throws, they should be in good shape.
Minnesota has only a slim chance to pull the upset, and that hope probably rests on a decided advantage in turnovers. Ohio State has been pretty good at ball security, but the Buckeyes did commit three turnovers last week against Indiana. Two came when Haskins was hit as he threw, and Minnesota can pressure the quarterback. Defensive end Carter Coughlin has five sacks this year and must be accounted for.
Light ’em up
Assuming the pass protection does hold up, Haskins could have a field day against a porous Minnesota pass defense. The Gophers lost their best defensive back, Antoine Winfield Jr. (yes, the former Buckeye’s son), to a season-ending injury, which an already young unit couldn’t afford. The Buckeyes must exploit that advantage in the passing game. Ohio State’s deep receiving corps can test even the best secondaries. This is not one of them.