Gophers Fall to No. 4 Ohio State 45-31 in Opener
September 2, 2021

Fourth-ranked Ohio State overcame a couple of Minnesota leads in beating the Gophers 45-31 in the season opener for both teams in Minneapolis. Turnovers, penalties, and big plays were prominent in an entertaining back-and-forth game.

The Buckeyes started redshirt freshman C. J. Stroud at quarterback and weren’t shy about putting his arm to work. Although Stroud had not thrown a college pass, Ohio State went to the air on its first three plays after taking over at its own 8 yard line on its first possession. Stroud connected on his first two before Garrett Wilson was unable to hang on to a downfield pass. Then Miyan Williams took over on the ground. He gained eight and then, on third and two, went around right end and down the sideline untouched for a 72-yard touchdown.

A field goal on their next drive gave the Buckeyes a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter before the Gophers came through with a fourth-down conversion on their next drive. Needing a yard from their 29, Mohammed Ibrahim got much more. He burst through the line and took it all the way to the Ohio State 15, a gain of 56 yards. Two plays later Tanner Morgan completed a fade pass to Dylan Wright in the end zone. With Chris Autman-Bell out with a leg injury, Wright became Morgan’s go-to receiver in the first half.

Terell Smith came up with the big play for the Gophers as Stroud threw behind Chris Olave. Smith picked it off at the Minnesota 40 and returned the interception 37 yards. The Gophers drove to the 5 and, although a pass into the end zone to Daniel Jackson was broken up, the Buckeyes were called for pass interference, putting the ball on the 2. It took three tries, but Ibrahim made it into the end zone for a touchdown to put Minnesota in front 14-10. Ibrahim at this point had covered 100 yards on 17 carries, and he increased his rushing total to 114 by halftime.

The Buckeyes got the ball to start the second half and quickly retook the lead, driving 81 yards with Stroud hitting Olave for a 38-yard touchdown to cap a seven-play, 81-yard drive.

Down 17-14, Minnesota appeared to dig a deeper hole for itself when Morgan overthrew Wright with a pass that safety Josh Proctor intercepted and his own 20 and returned all the way to the Minnesota 20. However, linebacker Dallas Gant was called for roughing the passer, instead giving the Gophers a first down at the Ohio State 27. Treyson Potts ran for eight yards on the next play, followed by a 19-yard touchdown run by Ibrahim to put Minnesota in front 21-17 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Tackles by defensive backs Coney Durr and Phillip Howard, along with an overthrown pass by Stroud, caused Ohio State to have to punt, and Minnesota took over on its 22. After a 14-yard connection from Morgan to tight-end Brevyn Spann-Ford, Cam Wiley ran for three yards. However, Conner Olson was flagged for unnecessary roughness at the end of the play, and the Gophers were moved back to their 22. Another penalty, on Curtis Dunlap for holding, and an overthrown pass that was nearly intercepted, left Minnesota with a third and 30. Ibrahim got two yards back before the Gophers had to punt on a drive snuffed out by penalties.

The Buckeyes got the ball at their 44 and didn’t waste time. On the first play, Garrett Wilson beat Calvin Swenson on a crossing pattern, pulled in Stroud’s on-target pass at the 15, and completed a 56-yard touchdown for a 24-21 lead, one that Ohio State did not relinquish.

The Buckeyes quickly expanded the margin. On a second and seven from the Minnesota 29, Morgan dropped back and was strip-sacked by defensive end Zach Harrison. Haskell Garrett corralled the ball at the 32 and rumbled into the end zone to give the Buckeyes a 10-point lead.

Minnesota got three back on a 46-yard field goal by Matthew Trickett early in the fourth quarter, but the drive was costly. With 37 seconds left in the third quarter, Ibrahim stretched for extra yards and injured his leg. He left the game with 163 yards rushing, and the extent of the injury was still unknown after the game.

The Buckeyes completed more big plays in the fourth quarter. Facing third and 5 at the 30, Stroud made a soft toss to TreVeyon Henderson four yards behind the line of scrimmage. Henderson did the rest, running 74 yards for a touchdown to give Ohio State its largest lead, 38-24, with 9:43 left in the game.

Minnesota got a touchdown back on a two-yard run by Bryce Williams, but it two only two plays for the Buckeyes to undo that. After a 14-yard run by Miyan Williams for a first down at the OSU 39, Olave took a pass at the Minnesota 41 and did some fancy footwork to stay inbounds as he scampered down the right sideline for the final score of the game.

The Buckeyes had covered 476 yards from scrimmage at that point and added 19 more on its final possession as it ran out the clock. Minnesota had 408 yards rushing and passing.

After an uncertain first half, Stroud found himself in sync with Wilson and Olave and completed 13 of 22 passes for 294 yards and 4 touchdowns. Miyan Williams led the Buckeye ground game with 125 yards on 9 carries. Master Teague got his 29 yards on 6 carries in the first half. Wilson caught 5 passes for 80 yards while Olave covered 117 yards on four receptions.

Morgan was 14 of 25 for 205 yards and a touchdown, and Potts became the primary runner after Ibrahim’s injury, gaining 34 yards on 10 rushes. Wright caught 5 passes for 57 yards and Jackson had three receptions for 58 yards.

“We’ll learn a lot from this experience,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day after the game. “To say that I’m surprised with the way that it played out, I’m not. We played a lot of young guys, on the road, in a conference game. It was the first time playing in front of fans in a long time. We had a quarterback that hadn’t thrown a college pass before. The way we rallied and played, especially in that second half, will be a lot to build on. I’m very excited coming out of that last half.”

Gophers coach P. J. Fleck said his message to his players was, “I told them that this is only one game. This team knows how good they are. I compared it to the Daytona 500 because that is the Super Bowl of racing, but it is only game one. We didn’t win the Daytona 500 today, but that doesn’t mean you cash this in for the cup at the end. We showed what type of football team we can be, that we will have to use a lot of players and that everyone is going to have to contribute to this team. I am proud of their fight and proud of how hard they played. I am proud of our fans and thankful for everyone coming out. That was special, especially our student body. It was good to have that football feel back, but comparing it to the Daytona 500, it is now time for our next race.”

Minnesota next plays three non-conference games against Miami (Ohio), Colorado, and Bowling Green.

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