(8) Ohio State (8-1) at Minnesota (7-2) (ET)

GAME NOTES: With first place in the Big Ten Conference’s East Division now
their’s alone, the eighth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes hit the road for the
second straight week as they tangle with the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF
Bank Stadium on Saturday.

Ohio State faced No. 7 Michigan State in East Lansing last weekend, and came
away with a 49-37 victory, earning its seventh straight win and setting a new
record for consecutive Big Ten victories in the regular season at 21. It was
also OSU’s 12th straight road triumph. The Buckeyes have only three games
remaining on the docket (Indiana and Michigan being the others), thus putting
them in control of their own destiny with regard to reaching the Big Ten
Championship Game.

Minnesota, which is playing its final home game of the season this week, also
has a shot at reaching the Big Ten title tilt, as coach Jerry Kill’s club
comes in sporting a 7-2 overall record, and is 4-1 in conference. The Golden
Gophers, who routed visiting Iowa last Saturday, 51-14, are currently tied
with both Nebraska and Wisconsin atop the Big Ten West, and they will face
both teams, on the road, in the last two games of the regular season.

This is the first meeting between these two teams since 2010, and Ohio State
holds a commanding 42-7 lead in the all-time series. The Buckeyes have won the
last seven encounters, and 23 of the last 24 overall.

Ohio State racked up 568 yards of total offense in last week’s win at Michigan
State, which was nearly 300 more than the Spartans were allowing coming into
the contest. Quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for an even 300 yards and three
TDs, while running for 86 yards and a two more scores to lead the Buckeyes’
prolific attack. Ezekiel Elliott churned out 154 yards and two TDs on 23
carries, Devin Smith caught six balls for 129 yards and a score, and Michael
Thomas turned his three grabs into 91 yards and a TD.

It’s our best performance that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” said Ohio
State coach Urban Meyer of the effort put forth by his offense last week.
“It’s very balanced. And I think you have to, what I always like to do is
obviously statistically I think we probably had more yards against other
teams. But that was against a legitimate top 5 defense in America and a bunch
of NFL players on that defense. And it was very well executed.”

The OSU defense certainly wasn’t without its faults in the game, as the
Spartans tallies 536 total yards, 358 of which came through the air. Joshua
Perry paced the Buckeyes with nine tackles, but the unit as a whole was
credited with only one sack and no takeaways.

In place of injured Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller, Barrett has performed
exceptionally well this season, completing 64.4 percent of his passes for
239.6 ypg, with 26 TDs and only seven INTs. Thomas and Smith are the top
receivers, combining for 53 catches, 1,102 yards and 15 TDs, while Elliott has
rushed for 863 yards and seven scores. Barrett has also been dangerous on the
ground, amassing 582 yards and eight TDs.

Last week’s shoddy effort aside, the Buckeyes have performed well on defense
in permitting 21.8 points and 326.2 yards per contest, and they lead the Big
Ten in interceptions (14), while ranking third in both turnover margin (+6)
and red-zone defense (.778). Perry leads the team with 79 tackles, while Joey
Boas has 10 sacks (No. 1 in the conference, No. 6 nationally). A total of five
players have multiple picks.

The Golden Gophers more than doubled Iowa last week in total offense,
generating 429 yards to only 205 for the Hawkeyes, in easily bringing the
Floyd of Rosedale trophy back to Minneapolis. Mitch Leidner didn’t throw the
ball much, but was highly efficient when he did as he completed 10-of-13
passes for 138 yards and four TDs. Maxx Williams was on the receiving end of
three of those scoring strikes, but it was the UM run game that did the most
damage, as the Gophers averaged just shy of five yards per carry in amassing
291 yards and three scores. Leidner led the way with 77 yards, David Cobb had
74, and KJ Maye 66.

Iowa was held to a season-low 84 rushing yards by an aggressive Minnesota
defense, which logged four sacks and three takeaways. Cedric Thompson paced
the unit with nine tackles, inching him closer to team leader Damien Wilson
(88 stops) on the season. He is still well off the pace though, having come up
with 51 tackles to this point.

“I just think the kids did all the things we asked them to do.” said coach
Kill after last week’s win. “The game comes down to execution and, for the
most part, we executed really well.”

Minnesota ranks in the top half of the Big Ten in several statistical
categories, including scoring offense (30.7 ppg) and scoring defense (21.3
ppg). While the team’s effort on the ground (224.3 ypg) has largely been on
point, its passing performance (league-worst 140.2 ypg) leaves quite a bit to
be desired. Leidner has converted only 53.3 percent of his throws for 1,225
yards, 10 TDs and six INTs, hitting Williams 22 times for 326 yards and seven
scores. Cobbs is one of the conference’s top rushers, ranking fourth with
1,205 yards and eight TDs.

Last week’s defensive display was among the best put forth by any team in the
Big Ten this season, and it lowered Minnesota’s average yields to 137.6 ypg
rushing and 197.8 ypg passing. The Gophers have proven to be an opportunistic
bunch as well, as they currently rank second in the Big Ten in turnover margin
at +8. Briean Boddy-Calhoun has three of the team’s 12 INTs, and while the
team has been credited with 18 sacks, no player has more than three.

Minnesota isn’t about to roll over and give Ohio State this game, but when
push comes to shove, and there will be plenty of both as this is Big Ten
football after all, the home team simply lacks in the areas the visitors
thrive. It may be close for a while, but the Buckeyes are a team on a mission.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 35, Minnesota 24