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It’s finally here Ohio State football fans. After a long offseason following a bizarre and shortened COVID-19 2020 season, the 2021 campaign is ready to kick off Thursday night against Minnesota.
It’s a little bit of an unusual start to the season with a road trip to a Big Ten foe, but with fans in the stands and players wearing scarlet and gray running out of the tunnel, things are going to feel right for the first time in a while.
But there are a lot of unknowns for the Buckeyes. Ryan Day and staff are breaking in new quarterback C.J. Stroud, and there are other new faces that need to step up and perform immediately in a hostile environment.
All of that being said, there are always keys to the game, especially when you open the season on the road off the jump and we’re here to provide five that will be important to Ohio State starting the season on a positive note.
Here are five keys to the Buckeyes taking down the Golden Gophers in prime time on Thursday night.
NEXT … Get off to a fast start
Jump out fast on the road
The Minnesota offense took a big step back in 2020, but will they take a step forward in 2021? https://t.co/kBx1lhJ123
— Buckeyes Wire (@BuckeyesWire) September 1, 2021
Playing Ohio State these days in the Big Ten takes on a mystique. The Buckeyes have won four straight Big Ten titles and are clearly heads and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the league when it comes to talent.
If OSU can jump on Minnesota early on the road, it will quiet a crowd that will be ready and primed to help will its team to an earth-shattering upset. Ohio State would do well to score some points early, keep the Golden Gophers off the scoreboard and make everyone think that order is still in place in the Big Ten, especially with some young players on the sideline of OSU.
NEXT … Shut down Minnesota’s running attack
Put a lid on the rushing attack
Ohio State’s reloaded defense faces an early test from Minnesota star Mohamed Ibrahim when the Buckeyes’ season opens Thursday night.
“Any time you're playing in the Big Ten, you're going to go against really good running backs.” https://t.co/fuuA94ydZI
— Joey Kaufman (@joeyrkaufman) September 1, 2021
Minnesota has arguably the best running back in the Big Ten with Mohamed Ibrahim. He absolutely lit it up in a shortened season in 2020, and everything the Golden Gophers like to do on offense starts with establishing things on the ground.
Even with a new quarterback under center, Ohio State will want to go fast on offense, and the only way to push back if you are Minnesota is to try and play ball-control offense and keep the explosive weapons off the field for the Buckeyes.
Win the rushing battle at the point of attack, and OSU wins this game.
NEXT … Stretch the Minnesota defense
Take advantage of mismatches through the air
Garrett Wilson + Chris Olave: Best WR duo in College Football 😤 pic.twitter.com/rw5JIFKyzT
— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 25, 2021
I don’t for one minute buy the fact that Ohio State will come out and be run-heavy because of C.J. Stroud’s youth and inexperience. That’s because the Buckeyes have arguably the best wide receiver corps in the entire country, certainly in the Big Ten.
Ryan Day has shown that he will come up with a game plan that utilizes the strengths of his team 100 out of 100 times, and there’s no way he’s going to not take advantage of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and company. I don’t see any way that the Gophers’ secondary can stop the passing game, and Stroud will distribute the ball to his weapons through the air just plenty.
NEXT … Get at least a stalemate in the turnover battle
Don’t commit too many turnovers
How does the Buckeyes Wire staff view the game on Thursday night vs. Minnesota? https://t.co/2UQjycS9Qu
— Buckeyes Wire (@BuckeyesWire) September 2, 2021
Nothing helps orchestrate an upset more than giving an underdog more chances in prime locations. Minnesota is seasoned enough to play physical, tough, and confident against a talented Ohio State team, but on paper, it’s still a mismatch talent-wise.
Unless — that is — the Buckeyes turn the ball over and lose the time of possession and volume of plays by a good portion. This game continues to be a game if and only if the field is slanted towards the Golden Gophers because of charitable contributions from OSU.
NEXT … Get pressure off the edge
Win the battle on the edge on defense
Zach Harrison says he's pleased with the way he's developed over his Ohio State career: “I've noticed that things I couldn't do freshman year, I can do now, because of the hard work.”
— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) August 30, 2021
Minnesota has a very physical offensive line. It’s part of the reason it was able to run the ball so effectively last year. However, quarterback Tanner Morgan had a bit of a slide last season in the passing game from what we saw in 2019.
The Golden Gophers don’t win this game as a one-dimensional offense. They could get 200 yards on the ground and still get beaten handily if the passing game doesn’t at least move the chains from time to time.
Ohio State’s defensive line played well up the middle last season, but there wasn’t nearly the amount of pressure from the edges we’ve seen in years past. Defensive ends Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith, and others have to win the battle off the edge and get into the backfield and make life difficult in the passing game.
Speed that clock up to create turnovers and incompletions. Get off the field and go score on the other end. Head home with a win. Celebrate.