Friday, October 23, 2009

Is Ohio State Capable of Two Losses in a Row?

The Minnesota Gophers are not the only ones coming off their worst performance of the 2009 season. The host Ohio State Buckeyes are coming off an embarrassing 26-18 loss at Purdue one week ago. That same Purdue team was fresh off being dismantled 35-20 by the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium the week prior and had lost five in a row. Yet, the Boilermakers controlled last Saturday's game. They won the total yardage matchup (361-287), held the ball for over 12 minutes longer, and won the penalty game handily over the usually-disciplined Buckeyes (1 penalty for five yards for Purdue; nine penalties for 65 yards for Ohio State). Simply put, the Bucks got waxed in West Lafayette.
That may or may not be good news for the Gophers. After Minnesota's 20-0 loss at Penn State, it was thought not much could get worse for the Gophers. Yet, a trip to Columbus, and a place where they have won just once since 1949 (in 2000), is not a good remedy on the surface.

One has to believe Ohio State will be quite upset after losing to Purdue. They had previously lost this season to USC, but had rattled off five straight wins to move back up to a #7 ranking in the national polls. Last week's loss effectively ends any title aspirations for the scarlet and gray, and they have remaining games with Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan the rest of the way. The road ahead is tough.

The Bucks are led by the erratic Terrelle Pryor at QB. He has completed 56% of his passes this season and has thrown for 10 TDs. Yet, all of Buckeye Nation is talking about his eight interceptions, after throwing just four during his freshman season one year ago. Either way you look at it, OSU's passing attack is the worst in the Big Ten. On the plus side, Pryor has also run for 367 yards and 4 TDs on the season.

Coach Jim Tressel has had to answer questions all week about his use of Pryor, and whether or not the 6-6 sophomore should continue to hold the starting job. In a big week for OSU, the last thing the coaching staff likely needs is a distraction like this, yet Tressel committed to Pryor during the week. It's not like OSU has any other similar options at this time.

OSU has plenty of other options in the offense as well. Junior RB Brandon Saine leads Pryor by a few yards to carry the team's rushing lead with 70 carries for 381 yards, and sophomore Daniel Herron has shown a nose for the end zone this season with five rushing touchdowns. Sophomore wideout DeVier Posey has hauled in 30 passes for 355 yards and four TDs this season, and has found the end zone in each of the last three games. Junior WR Dane Sanzenhacher has demonstrated big-play ability with 326 receiving yards on just 16 catches (20.4 yards per catch) and has also scored four TDs.

The punishing OSU defense has also been tough this season, allowing just 98 points for the 5-2 Buckeyes.

Whatever you think of Pryor as a college QB, the guy is big and has dynamic playmaking abilities. At 6-6, he can punish blockers yet has the elusiveness of a much smaller runner. He is lightning-quick and has shown more passing promise than probably initially thought. The Gophers are going to have their hands full.

Ohio State faces a must-win game this week. With the three tough tests down the road, the Buckeyes are at the tipping point of a season which could end well or very poorly. If they have designs on the BCS, they need to beat the Gophers on Saturday. If the Gophers win, OSU's season is effectively over.

The Gophers absolutely need to try to rush the ball against Ohio State this weekend, and it won't be easy against the big OSU front seven. However, the team cannot abandon the run. If nothing else, it keeps the defense off the field - something the Gophers were not able to do in Happy Valley last weekend, with PSU holding the ball for over 42 minutes. The Gopher defense did not play that poorly against Penn State (they stunk on third down, but were otherwise fine). Weber must play better than he did last week, and it wouldn't kill the Gophers to work MarQueis Gray into the mix a bit to change things up on offense. Purdue took advantage of four OSU turnovers last weekend in the victory, and the Gopher defense has shown an ability to force them - last week excluded.

OSU is beatable, as Purdue displayed last week. However, the Gophers must be opportunistic on turnovers and diversified on offense in order to have any chance on Saturday.

One thing is certain - the Buckeyes will be in a foul mood Saturday after their embarrassment at Purdue. That does not bode well for the Gophers.

Prediction: Ohio State 24, Minnesota 20

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