Depth, perseverance help Ohio State overcome challenge at Minnesota

Ohio State football coach Ryan Day expected the Buckeyes to get a challenge at Minnesota to open the season Thursday night.

They did.

After squandering an early 10-point lead, fourth-ranked Ohio State came from behind twice before winning by two scores, a 45-31 victory that had many of the hallmarks of a first game on the road against a solid opponent.

“I’m proud of the way our team played,” Day told reporters in Minneapolis. “We’ll learn a lot from this experience.

“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.”

Here are five takeaways from the game:

1. C.J. Stroud was much better in the second half than the first.

Ohio State’s redshirt freshman quarterback had some shaky moments, mostly in the first 30 minutes of his first college start.

He completed his first two passes then was only five for his next 11. That included a bad throw behind Chris Olave that was tipped and intercepted, a turnover that set up Minnesota’s first go-ahead touchdown.

Stroud completed 8 of 14 passes for 58 yards in the first half, but he found himself after receiving encouragement from his teammates at halftime.

The California native threw only nine passes in the second half, but he completed six — and four went for touchdowns.

“I feel like I kept my head up, I stayed positive and my teammates just kept egging me on,” Stroud said. “It’s all about what you’re going to do when you get punched in the mouth.”

2. Big plays were a big factor.

Ohio State only outgained Minnesota by 87 yards, but the Buckeyes averaged 10.3 yards per play compared to 5.4.

Both teams converted half their third downs.

Ohio State had five tackles for loss and two sacks while Minnesota had one and none.

Ohio State won the turnover battle 2-1, though both teams turned a turnover into a touchdown, so the efficiency of the Buckeyes was a turning point.

“That’s what they do,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. “They make you pay. It’s very difficult because their receivers get down the field very quickly. They’ve got four of them that can roll, and they’re very well-coached. They ran the ball a little bit more effectively than we wanted them to. We felt if we could truly stop the run and make them truly one-dimensional, maybe we would have a little bit better of a chance, but they were able to keep the play-action game open, and that’s where we were a little exposed at times.”

3. Depth was also a difference.

Four different players carried the ball for the Buckeyes, who went into the game without their projected starting center and a couple of other players expected to have big roles.

Starter Miyan Williams ran nine times for 125 yards (a cool 13.9-yard average) while Master Teague III, Marcus Crowley and TreVeyon Henderson combined to carry the ball 14 times for 63 yards.

Henderson, the true freshman and third-stringer, showed why he was the No. 1 running back recruit in the country last year as he took a screen pass 70 yards for a back-breaking touchdown in the fourth quarter.

On the other side of the ball, Cody Simon came off the bench to make seven tackles, including a key sack late in the second quarter that pushed Minnesota out of scoring range, and fellow linebacker Dallas Gant added eight tackles in a reserve role.

With veteran cornerbacks Cam Brown and Sevyn Banks not fully healthy, the coaching staff rotated a handful of players at that position with respectable results overall despite some ups and downs.

4. The Golden Gophers were pretty much as advertised when they had the ball.

Coach P.J. Fleck’s team pounded the ball on the ground and tried to be opportunistic with play-action passes.

Senior Tanner Morgan completed 14 of 25 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown, but the Buckeyes avoided giving up the big play through the air. The longest Minnesota passing play gained 22 yards.

True freshman Denzel Burke was credited with three pass breakups while redshirt freshman Lejond Cavazos had one.

Burke was flagged for pass interference to extend a Minnesota drive, and Cavazos was beaten for a touchdown. Cavazos also missed a tackle that turned Mohamed Ibrahim’s fourth-and-1 conversion into a 56-yard gain that set up the Gophers’ first score.

5. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson were great, as expected.

Ohio State’s All-Big Ten receiver duo combined for nine catches for 197 yards and three touchdowns.

Olave’s 38-yard touchdown catch gave Ohio State the lead back early in the third quarter, and his 61-yards score gave the Buckeyes a two-touchdown advantage in the fourth quarter.

Wilson, who had five catches for 80 yards, also had a go-ahead touchdown for the Buckeyes when he turned a Minnesota safety inside out with a juke move and broke wide open for a 56-yard score in the third quarter.

Olave finished with four catches for 117 yards.

“Those are two of the best receivers in the country — the best receivers in the country,” Stroud said, “so thank God they’re on my team.”

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