COLUMBUS, Ohio — P.J. Fleck and the Gophers football team have been knocked out twice in their unenviable task of playing both Ohio State and Michigan this season.
With a 37-3 loss to the No. 2 Buckeyes on Saturday following a 52-10 defeat to the now-No. 3 Wolverines in October, Fleck was asked postgame at Ohio Stadium to compare the Big Ten’s dueling powerhouses.
“I think you are splitting hairs,” Fleck responded to an Ohio reporter. “What color Ferrari would you like? A red one or a white one? Just based on preference, what one would you want to pick in the lot?”
Continuing that analogy, what kind of vehicle would that make the under-.500 Gophers? A domestic sedan? A small pick-up truck?
On Saturday, Minnesota kept it close early, trailing only 13-0 after 30 minutes, but the Buckeyes zoomed past the Gophers with 14 points in the opening 67 seconds of the second half.
Minnesota doesn’t have the speed, power or handling of a sports car to keep up.
On the first play of the second half, running back TreVeyon Henderson got loose on a 75-yard touchdown run. On the U’s first offensive play, quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis was strip-sacked; Buckeyes standout end JT Tuimoloau recovered and returned it 15 yards. Three plays later, star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. caught a touchdown pass.
Kaliakmanis then threw an interception on the next series, and it led to a Buckeyes field goal.
Showing it can do it quickly and methodically, Ohio State put together a 16-play touchdown drive to make it 37-0 early in the fourth quarter, and many fans in the announced crowd of 104,019 headed for the exits.
No. 2 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0) might have started slower in a potential trap game, with The Game against fellow unbeaten Michigan coming next Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich. But the Buckeyes shifted into high gear after the break.
The Buckeyes outgained Minnesota by 275 total yards (434-159) and scored 10 points off two Minnesota turnovers.
“We were outmatched and outcoached,” Fleck said. “… We got to be way better. We didn’t make enough plays, which has been the story of the year.”
The Gophers (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) have now lost three straight games and still need one more win to reach bowl eligibility. They have one last chance to get to six wins in the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Wisconsin next Saturday.
Defensive end Danny Striggow tried to keep the perspective boiled down to one loss against the Buckeyes. “You can’t think like that,” he said of the skid. “Otherwise that’s how you get into a losing mentality.”
The Buckeyes offense averaged 10 yards per play on its opening eight-play touchdown drive, but didn’t have the same success on the next four drives. Minnesota forced a three-and-out on the next drive. Ohio State was stopped inside Minnesota’s 30-yard line on the following two drives and kicked two field goals to extend a 13-0 lead.
“They came out and hit us in the mouth,” Striggow said. “We knew, with a team like that, they are going to come out firing. I think we settled down after that first drive and so to speak got the jitters out and were able to play pretty good defense after that in the first half.”
The Gophers had two offensive drives inside the Buckeyes 45-yard line in the first half, but instead of going for it on two fourth-and-5 situations, Fleck opted to not take a chance and punt both times.
Fleck, if you will, wasn’t willing to pop the clutch in a drag race against this scarlet Ferrari.