Slant passes bedevil Ohio State defense

Tim May
Golden Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim (24) ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns against the Buckeyes on Saturday. On this carry, Ohio State's Pete Werner (20, left) got help from his friends in bringing down the hard-charging freshman. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

Like sailors battling leaks, Ohio State finally tightened things up on defense Saturday.

But it was only after the Buckeyes took on a lot of water from Minnesota’s “row the boat” offense that ran the ball well at times and threw it especially well with a steady diet of slant routes. 

“They had a good game plan, and they used it pretty well,” linebacker Pete Werner said after the Buckeyes' 30-14 win. “They had (a run-pass option) concept that brought me in as a linebacker and used the one-on-one slant concept.”

It was difficult for Ohio State to deal with both the run, which Minnesota established with Mohamed Ibrahim (157 yards), and the slant passes. Ohio State often crowds its linebackers near the line of scrimmage, leaving them vulnerable to slant throws.

“That’s a tough one to defend, especially with our defense,” said Werner, who had 2 1/2 tackles for loss, including a sack, and 10 tackles overall, second on the Buckeyes to the 12 by safety Jordan Fuller.

As the game went on, those slant throws from Minnesota freshman walk-on quarterback Zack Annexstad grew less effective as Shaun Wade and other defensive backs tightened their coverage.

The linebackers helped, too, including first-time starter Justin Hilliard — in place of Malik Harrison, in concussion protocol from a week earlier — who batted down one pass and changed the angle of the pass on a couple of others.

“We changed alignments to kind of mess with the coordinator,” Werner said. “Other than that, not too much (adjustments). We still did our job.”

A defense susceptible to giving up long plays gave up seven to the Gophers that were 17 yards or longer.

“I see the same thing, those slants,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We’re a team that challenges every throw, and when you get beat, that’s a problem.”

Annexstad finished 13-of-23 passing, and the Buckeyes' defense shut out the Gophers in the second half, though Minnesota missed two field goals. There were interceptions on deep passes by Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Pryor, and Wade caused a fumble — after a slant pass — that was recovered by Jeffrey Okudah.

“The best thing is we created some turnovers,” Meyer said. “That was the difference in the game.”


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