Gophers-Buckeyes: Scouting the Matchups

Duane Bennett

In a game with more than a three-touchdown spread in favor of Ohio State, we examine the key players, both teams' offenses and defenses, who's hot and who's not.

Ohio State at Minnesota, Sept. 29 — This figures to be a major mismatch. Ohio State has one of the nation's top defenses. The Gophers are ranked dead last in total defense and pass defense. The Gophers are inviting a large group of recruits to campus this weekend. A chance to play right away might be their top selling point.

For Ohio State, an offense that is proving to be more potent than originally expected against the worst pass defense in the country is good news. Much like last week's 51-point Ohio State win, this could get ugly in a hurry.

MINNESOTA

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Turnovers continue to plague the Gophers. They had four more in the first half against Purdue and now have 16 for the season. The Gophers already have lost eight fumbles. They had not lost more than 10 fumbles in a season since 2000. They cannot afford to turn the ball over against Ohio State, which ranks second nationally in total defense.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Coach Tim Brewster felt his maligned defense made improvement, even though the Gophers still allowed 31 points and 504 total yards to Purdue. Ohio State's offense is more conventional than Purdue's, but every matchup figures to be difficult for Minnesota. The Gophers rank last in Division I-A in total defense and pass defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Duane Bennett — He replaced senior Amir Pinnix last week and made a big statement. The ultra-fast true freshman rushed for 81 yards and one touchdown on seven carries in the second half. He is expected to get even more work this game.

SS Dom Barber — Senior leads the team in tackles (39) and pass breakups (4). Surrounded by young players in the secondary, Barber needs to be a steady influence on the back end.

QB Adam Weber — Redshirt freshman faces his first big test against a relentless Ohio State defense. Weber has committd six turnovers the last two games (five interceptions, one fumble) and needs to make better decisions.

ROSTER REPORT: True freshman TB Duane Bennett is expected to get his first career start in place of senior Amir Pinnix, who has turf toe and was benched last week after losing a critical fumble for the second consecutive game. Bennett rushed for 81 yards and one touchdown in seven carries in the second half.

Deon Hightower will replace Steve Davis as the starter at strong-side linebacker. Davis has a foot injury.

TE Jack Simmons returned from a two-game absence because of a stress fracture in his right foot and caught three passes for 18 yards against Purdue.

OG D.J. Burris is expected to return after missing the Purdue game with a left leg injury.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was just absolutely flabbergasted." — Minnesota coach Tim Brewster after senior Jamal Harris somehow dropped the football while running for what should have been a walk-in, untouched touchdown after the Gophers had blocked a field goal attempt. Purdue recovered Harris' fumble.


OHIO STATE

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Buckeyes wanted to send a message in their win over Northwestern last week and they did just that, piling up four first-quarter touchdowns and 45 points in the first half en route to a 58-7 blowout. It's becoming evident that the deep ball will continue to be a big part of the offense, with QB Todd Boeckman and WR Brian Robiskie hooking up for three touchdowns over 25 yards the last two weeks, including two over 40. That will likely continue against the Gophers, who are ranked last in the country in pass defense, allowing over 407 yards passing per game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The game against Northwestern was essentially the second shutout of the year for the OSU defense. The Wildcats' only touchdown came on kickoff return, just like Akron's only points came on a safety when the offense is on the field. The Buckeyes are second in the country in total defense, allowing less than 180 yards per game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Todd Boeckman — Graded his first "winning performance," as Jim Tressel calls it, against the Wildcats last week because he only threw three incompletions. This could be the day the coaches turn the offense over to him and really let him prove what he can do.

WR Brian Robiskie — He has three deep touchdown catches over the last two weeks. There's no reason to think that's going to stop now, especially if teams continue to leave him in single coverage.

RB Maurice Wells — With Brandon Saine still out recovering from knee surgery and Beanie Wells limping with a bad ankle, the other Wells will likely get the bulk of the carries in the Metrodome.

ROSTER REPORT: RB Brandon Saine is out recovering from knee surgery and is 50/50 for the Oct. 6 game against Purdue, Jim Tressel said. Tressel expects Saine to be 100 percent for sure by the Kent State game on Oct. 13.

DE Lawrence Wilson, who broke his leg in the opener, could play in the bowl game, Tressel said.

PK Aaron Pettrey, slow to recover from a groin injury, was expected to handle the kickoffs last week against Northwestern but was scratched Saturday morning. It's unclear if he'll make the travel roster to Minnesota this week, but Tressel was leaning toward leaving him behind, since the travel roster is limited in numbers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That happens sometimes. I'm sure if you talk to Archie Griffin or Eddie George or any of those guys that carried the ball a lot, they'd tell you that it's probably Wednesday or so before they're really feeling good and they crank it up on Saturday, and then they're back in the tub until Wednesday. I think that's the nature. You get hit pretty good when you're a running back. I'm hoping that like any great running back, that Chris is a warrior and that I'm not hoping that he doesn't hurt, because that's usually not the case with running backs, they hurt." — Coach Jim Tressel, on Beanie Wells' lingering ankle injury.

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