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Buckeyes ‘almost where (they) need to be’

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Senior wide receiver Evan Spencer (6) runs the ball into the end zone after a reception during a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 in Minneapolis. OSU won, 31-24. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Senior wide receiver Evan Spencer (6) runs the ball into the end zone after a reception during a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 in Minneapolis. OSU won, 31-24.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Mistakes were made, records were broken, and it was cold.

In the middle of all that, Ohio State (9-1, 6-0) found a way to pick up a second-consecutive road win against a team ranked in the College Football Playoff top 25.

The Buckeyes — ranked No. 8 in that poll — overcame a pair of fumbles lost and an interception to leave Minneapolis — where the temperature was just 15 degrees at kickoff — with a 31-24 win against No. 25 Minnesota (7-3, 4-2) Saturday afternoon. But if OSU wants to keep rising in the poll going forward, things can’t go the way they did at TCF Bank Stadium — at least that’s how Tom Herman felt after the game.

“Obviously we’re not going to be able to go where we want to go turning the ball over like that,” OSU’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach said.

All season long, coach Urban Meyer has stressed that the place the Buckeyes want to be is in a position to “compete for championships in November.”

Now more than halfway through the 11th month, Meyer and his team are just a win — or a Michigan State loss — away from locking up a spot in the Dec. 6 Big Ten Championship game. The Buckeyes’ next shot to book that trip to Indianapolis is set to come next Saturday against Indiana at home.

That means OSU is close, but sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott agreed with Herman that the Buckeyes are a few mishaps away from being where they want to be.

“We’re almost where we need to be,” Elliott said after he rushed for 91 yards against the Golden Gophers. “We keep making these little dumb mistakes but without those mistakes, the game last weekend and the game this weekend would’ve been a different outcome.”

While OSU beat then-No. 8 Michigan State, 49-37, a week before topping Minnesota, both games saw the Buckeyes turn the ball over multiple times, leading to points for their opponent. In fact, all three Minnesota touchdowns came on the ensuing drives after each OSU turnover.

Herman said turnovers come with the game, but added he was glad to see how the Buckeyes responded to the mistakes.

“You can’t take those turnovers away,” he said. “They are what they are and that’s what made the game close. But I was proud of our guys to continue to battle back and continue to make plays.”

Perhaps nobody felt the weight of the turnovers more than redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall, as he had two fumbles in the game. One of those fumbles came on what would have been a likely touchdown for OSU, followed by an 80-yard touchdown drive from the Golden Gophers for a 14-point swing.

Senior wide receiver Evan Spencer — who had a chance to recover that Marshall fumble in the end zone before the ball popped free — said the numbers on the scoreboard didn’t show how well the Buckeyes actually played.

“We cut out those turnovers, it’s a completely different ball game,” Spencer said after the game. “But I feel as a team we had a really good team win, and that was a really great team that we just played.”

Praise for Minnesota and the idea of a strong group effort were common themes among the OSU coaches and players after the game, and Meyer summarized it in his opening statement.

“Great team win. Not great execution, but great team win,” he said. “Bottom line is 11 a.m. game against a very good team that we have a lot of respect for.”

Herman mentioned the Golden Gopher’s standing in the national picture, and again praised OSU’s ability to overcome mistakes as a team.

“This was a top-25 team with a top-20 defense on the road with very unfavorable conditions,” he said. “And we turned the ball over I don’t know how many times, and we still found a way to win.”

Part of the reason OSU did pull out a victory was the play of redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. He had some of his own mistakes — including an interception — but set three new school records.

His 86-yard touchdown scamper was the longest run ever by an OSU quarterback, while his 189 rushing yards was also the top single-game output by a Buckeye signal caller in program history. And to top it off, Barrett’s second-half touchdown toss to redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas was his 37th total touchdown this season, moving him one ahead of the record set by then-junior quarterback Braxton Miller last year. He added a 38th touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 22-yard pass to senior wide receiver Evan Spencer.

Barrett’s three touchdown passes in the game also moved him within one of Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith’s school record of 30 in a season set in 2006.

The signal caller’s big day helped OSU to 489 yards of total offense, while the Buckeyes’ defense held Minnesota to 303 total yards.

OSU’s defensive performance only faltered after the three turnovers. While two of those turnovers were undoubtedly on Marshall alone, Meyer said the Buckeyes won’t leave him out of game plans going forward.

“We’re gonna come right back to him,” he said. “That’s what good teams do, they pick each other up.

“He’s a good player, we’ve gotta get that fixed.”

Aside from the turnovers from Marshall and Barrett and a shaky first-half performance from the run defense, redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee stressed that the Buckeyes still came away with the No. 1 thing that matters.

“You’re never really satisfied, and that wasn’t really the best performance defensively and offensively in the first half,” Lee said after the game. “But we came together as a team in the second half and just regrouped and calmed down and did our job, and we finished the game.”

Kickoff between OSU and Indiana is set for noon at Ohio Stadium.

 

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