Gophers Rack Up Offense, Still Lose to Ohio State
Saturday, October 29, 2005

The 578 yards that the Minnesota Gophers accumulated from scrimmage on Saturday were nearly 130 more than the Ohio State Buckeyes, yet the Gophers came up on the short end of a 45-31 score.

“The two things that are the most important on the road: you better be superior in the special teams and win the turnover margin,” said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes didn’t turn over the ball, giving them the edge by one over the Gophers, who lost one fumble (which came when they were already down by 14 points in the fourth quarter).

The way the Buckeyes closed the yardage gap was on special teams. Ted Ginn returned two punts for 42 yards and two kickoffs for 129 yards, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown in the second quarter after the Gophers had closed to within three points of the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, the Gophers didn’t get to return any of Josh Huston’s eight kickoffs, all of which sailed into the back end of the end zone, if not beyond. “The best kickoff return is their kickoff guy,” said Gophers coach Glen Mason, wryly and ruefully pointing out how Huston had prevented Minnesota from starting with good field position after any of the Ohio State scores.

The 12th-ranked Buckeyes entered the game with the nation’s top defense against the run and initially held the 22nd-ranked Gophers, who have the nation’s top rushing offense, in check on the ground. However, Ohio State had more trouble stopping the pass. Helped twice by blown coverage by the Buckeyes, the Gophers had a big play in each half, and Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito had his best collegiate game, completing 26 of 35 passes for 396 yards and one touchdown.

Ohio State took the opening kickoff and scored in fewer than three minutes, Troy Smith hitting Santonio Holmes for a 41-yard touchdown pass on the seventh play of the 80-yard drive. Minnesota covered 68 yards on its first drive, all but six of them in the air. But Jason Giannini’s 32-yard field-goal attempt was wide to the right.

The Buckeyes had to settle for a field goal on their next possession, and the Gophers came back with a pair of big plays. Cupito his Ernie Wheelwright for 14 yards, and then the running game came alive. Laurence Maroney broke a 53-yard run. Gary Russell carried the ball the next three times for a total of 12 yards, and Maroney took the ball into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run.

Ted Ginn then took Giannini’s kickoff on the goal line, faked a handoff to Anthony Gonzalez as he started up the left side, cut to his right and turned upfield through a seam in the Gophers coverage at his 20, then veered right and used his speed to outrace the remaining defenders. The touchdown and conversion put the Buckeyes ahead, 17-7.

The Gophers came back with a mix of runs and passes for another touchdown, and the first quarter ended with the Buckeyes leading 17-10. Minnesota tied the game early in the second quarter as Cupito found Logan Payne for a long gain and then hit Jared Ellerson for a five-yard touchdown pass. Neither offense could capitalize on its ensuing possessions, and the game remained tied at the half.

The Gophers started the second half, as usual, on their 20, and were unable to get a first down. Justin Kucek’s punt and a holding penalty put the Buckeyes back on their 28 yard line, but Ohio State struck quickly. Antonio Pittman carried the ball for five yards on the first play. On the next, he broke through the middle and raced 67 yards for a touchdown that put the Buckeyes ahead to stay.

Minnesota drove into Ohio State territory on its next possession and faced a third-and-two at the 32 yard line. Gary Russell took a handoff and tried to pass it back to Cupito, a floater that was broken up and nearly intercepted. The Gophers went for it on fourth down, only to have Maroney pulled down from behind by Mike Kudla.

The Buckeyes’ tackling was outstanding all afternoon with safety Donte Whitner and linebacker A. J. Hawk leading the team with eight solo tackles. However, Tressel noted the big play by Kudla, who gets overlooked by pro scouts because of all the other defensive talent Ohio State has. "He’s special, and he has quite a motor," Tressel said of Kudla.

After getting the ball back from the Gophers, the Buckeyes needed only seven plays to score, Smith hitting Gonzalez for a 27-yard touchdown, and Ohio State was ahead, 31-17. From there, each team scored another two touchdowns, and the Buckeyes finished with a 45-31 win.

Laurence Maroney rushed for 127 yards for Minnesota, while the Buckeyes’ Antonio Pittman ran the ball 23 times for 186 yards.

The Buckeyes, with their sixth victory, became bowl eligible, although Tressel almost laughed upon being informed of the fact by a reporter after the game. For the Gophers, however, another victory is needed if they are to go to a bowl game.

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