A grade card on Ohio State’s 28-14 win over Minnesota, a game that wasn’t the most artistic effort of the season but kept the Buckeyes among the ranks of the unbeaten. It also should keep them in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings when they are announced on Tuesday.
If OSU’s offense was being graded only on how it played the last three minutes of the first half and the last two minutes of the second half, it would have earned a solid grade. But in between there were huge patches of three-and-outs and too many punts.
The game was a scoreless tie until the Buckeyes’ defense scored the first touchdown of the game on a Vonn Bell interception with 4:53 left in the first half. The offense did put together a 77-yard scoring drive late in the first, had a 59-yard scoring drive and Cardale Jones broke loose for 38-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes of the game. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 114 yards, the 14th game in a row he had gone over 100 yards.
“We just expect much more efficiency out of our offense,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after the game.
Jones (12 of 22 for 187 yards and a touchdown) filled in for the suspended J.T. Barrett and delivered the same sort of performance he had much of the time before losing the starting job to Barrett. There was some good, some not so good and not a high level of consistency.
Give the defense credit for waking up Ohio State after its lethargic start with Bell’s interception. But a fourth-quarter letdown that saw Minnesota get touchdowns on a 10-play, 77-yard drive and on a 6-play, 78-yard drive cancelled out much of the good will earned by that defensive score.
Minnesota got 204 of its 314 yards total offense in the fourth quarter and Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner had 195 of his 281 yards passing in that quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Field goal kicking continues to be a concern. Kicker Jack Willoughby missed his only field goal attempt from 35 yards and has not connected from beyond 39 yards while going 7 for 11 this season. Until this year, the Duke transfer had never attempted a field goal in a game.
The only other option is Sean Nuernberger, who lost the job to Willoughby after going 13 of 20 last season as a freshman. On the positive side, punter Cameron Johnston dropped three punts inside the 20-yard line and Jalin Marshall had a 33-yard punt return.
A better team, maybe one like Minnesota had last season, might have made Ohio State pay for Barrett’s absence and its inconsistency in almost every phase of the game. But the Gophers weren’t good enough to do that Saturday night.
It would be surprising if Barrett does not return to the starting lineup this Saturday at Illinois. Ohio State’s offense works best when there is a second threat to keep defenses from loading up to stop Elliott. And Barrett running the ball and running the option is a much more consistent threat than Jones and his ability to throw the deep pass.