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Minnesota Gophers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes: Preview, predictions and prognostications

When: Sat., November 7; 8:00 P.M. Eastern
Where: Columbus, OH; Ohio Stadium (104,944)
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 43-7
Last Meeting: Ohio State win 31-24
Line: Ohio State -23

Well … what do we have here? It’s a little drama mixed in with a little chaos and a pinch of uncertainty. Just when Ohio State seemed to have figure things out at the quarterback position, the quarterback position couldn’t figure things out with the law. It’s one step forward and two steps back when things should be full-steam ahead.

For Minnesota, it blundered away the opportunity to send Jerry Kill swashbuckling into the sunset on a white horse by doing some confounding things at the end of the game that only programs like Minnesota seem to do. It’s the type of effort that can have a demoralizing effect on a team searching to still get to some sort of bowl. Can the Gophers find a little something left in the tank to give the No. 3 team in the CFP rankings a fight, in the ‘Shoe, at night?

1 Burning Question: Can Cardale Jones Come to the Rescue Again?

Where have we seen this movie before? There seem to be more Cardale Jones’ sequels being churned out of the Scarlet, Gray and silver-screen than a combination of the Toy Story, Star Wars and Rocky franchises. It all comes at a very inopportune time, but if there’s one role that Jones relishes, it’s the underdog card when he’s not expected to be the guy.

Ohio State badly needs to continue its forward momentum, but a little late night drinking and driving by J.T Barrett threw a wrench in all of that. There’s just a couple more games to go before the competition level heats up big-time, and you have to wonder if it can all work in concert, and build to a CFP crescendo or not.

2 Key Stats:

— 15.1: The amount of points the OSU defense is giving up. Good for fifth in the country. What? You didn’t know that? Welcome to the club. For all the discussion around the quarterback derby and the so-called struggles on offense, the Buckeyes are very quietly showing a championship-caliber defense, and it all starts in the secondary and OSU’s second rated passing defense. And you thought things revolved around the Buckeye front-seven on defense.

— 17 seconds: It’s how many seconds the Golden Gophers wasted during the second to last play against Michigan last week — ultimately costing them the game. Building a program is all about setting a culture. Minnesota had the game won and literally ran out of time because of its own stumbling, bumbling and fumbling with the clock. The Cadillac programs seem to do the little things right, while all the others botch situations like what we saw in Minneapolis at the end of the game. The Gophers can’t let Ohio State off the hook if it has the same type of effort on Saturday.

3 Key Players:

Cardale Jones, Ohio State QB: Captain Obvious here for Of course Jones is a key player. He’s stepping into a bit of a familiar situation, but one in which he was benched for Barrett, so confidence could be lacking. Minnesota’s secondary is a solid bunch and OSU will need him to make some plays through the air to loosen things up for Elliott on the ground. Twelve-gauge better come locked and loaded.

Rodney Smith, Minnesota RB: The Gophers have struggled to find any kind of positive consistency on offense this year, especially on the ground. If the OSU secondary was a credit card rewards program, there would be plenty of black-outs on air miles, meaning Smith needs to be able to get yards between the tackles where the Ohio State defense has shown some wear this year. The same lackluster production could spell a very long day on the banks of the Olentangy for a smarting Gopher program.

Braxton Miller, Ohio State WR/QB: Yeah, yeah, he’s officially listed as the backup quarterback this week (first time QB since the 2013 Orange Bowl), but Miller will line up in his customary slot-position most of the game. With the running threat of J.T. Barrett somewhat equalized by some ethyl alcohol, Miller should get in on the action with more jet-sweeps and designed direct snaps than usual. He could be another spin-move away from turning into a Twitter sensation yet again.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Braxton Miller will throw his first TD pass of the season. Urban Meyer would have liked to have waited to dial-up Miller’s arm until one of the Michigan teams came calling, but all the J.T. Barrett shenanigans will force the coaches’ hands. Jones will be a bit off like weeks past in the passing game, and Miller will have to take a direct snap and throw down the field to spark the offense.

— Ezekiel Elliott will top 200 yards on the ground. The whole 200 yard mark isn’t really that bold for Elliott these days, but it’s still a big number. Minnesota knows how to cover-up receivers on the back-end and it’ll force things to go by way of land for Ohio State. It’ll take some time, but the O-line will wear down the Gopher defensive front and Zeke will tear into a couple of big ones in the second-half to top 200 for the second time this season, and fifth since the end of 2014.

— Minnesota will flirt with an upset for the second-straight week. The OSU offense just hasn’t hummed and purred like a well-oiled Hemi engine with Jones under center. There will be a letdown on the offensive end because of the Barrett factor and the Minnesota defense will come to play. Alas, OSU will pull away at the end for a swollen, black and blue win that’ll do it no favors in the eyes of the CFP Selection Committee.

— Mitch Leidner will rush for over 50 yards. So he’s not exactly your definition of a dual-threat QB, but the Ohio State pass rush comes fierce and hard and has shown the habit of pushing too far up-field and losing contain on the quarterback (just ask Perry Hills from Maryland). Leidner will find some running lanes when things break down, and rumble a few times right up the middle of the tackle box and have a surprisingly productive day on the ground.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: OSU 48-10 (68-17 overall; 37-47 ATS)
Dave: OSU 35-14 (69-16 overall; 44-39 ATS)
Greg: OSU 35-17 (62-23 overall; 47-36 ATS)
Matt: OSU 55-24 (68-17 overall; 50-33 ATS)
Phil: OSU 34-17 (23-9 overall; 11-18 ATS) *joined in Week 5

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