COLUMBUS – Ohio State’s 1968 national championship team, which was honored during OSU’s 30-14 win over Minnesota on Saturday, witnessed a game that might have seemed very different from the games they played.
No. 3 Ohio State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) won by throwing for 412 yards and running the football for only 92 yards, which was a drastic departure from the favored manner of playing offense of the 1968 team’s legendary coach, Woody Hayes.
The big questions after OSU’s win were can it continue to win games with an offense tilted so far toward the passing game and can it get to where the 1968 team got without more production in its rushing game.
OSU’s win over Minnesota (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten) was closer than expected. The Gophers led for much of the first half and it wasn’t until late in the second quarter that OSU took the lead for good. And it wasn’t until the final 10 minutes of the game that the Buckeyes could build a lead of more than one score.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins (33 of 44 for 412 yards, 3 touchdowns) and wide receiver K.J. Hill (9 catches, 187 yards, 2 touchdowns) led the offense.
But Ohio State’s running game struggled for the third week in a row. In its last three games, OSU has averaged 122 yards a game on the ground and 3.1 yards per carry.
When OSU coach Urban Meyer was asked if the Buckeyes could get where they want to go with that kind of imbalance in their offense, he said, “As of today and last week, no. But there are certainly signs. We’ve got two good backs and we’ve just got to get it worked out.”
Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said, “It’s a talented group of linemen. We’ve got some backs. We’ve got to tighten it up.
“I think we have really good guys. The skill set is good. We’ve just got to get those guys playing better,” he said.
Nothing illustrated the dominance of the pass in OSU’s offense more than the 71-yard drive that set up the field goal that gave the Buckeyes some breathing room with a 23-14 lead with 10 minutes to play.
In that drive, only three of the plays were running plays and they netted -1 yard. The rest of the drive came on passes.
Ohio State scored first on a 21-yard field goal by Blake Haubeil, one of three he kicked as a replacement for Sean Nuernberger, who was unable to play because an injury described as “a strain” by an Ohio State spokesman.
The two teams traded leads three times before K.J. Hill’s one-handed catch on a 36-yard touchdown play put OSU in front to stay at 17-14 with 3:59 left in the first half. Haubeil made a 47-yard field goal and a 27-yarder to make it 23-14 early in the fourth quarter. Then Haskins connected with Hill on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 2:15 to play to give OSU a 30-14 lead.
“We just had to fight through adversity and made plays when they mattered. And that’s a good learning tool for next week,” Haskins said.
Ohio State’s defense, playing without four injured starters, had some moments of adversity, too, mainly against the slant passes of Minnesota quarterback Zack Annexstad (13 of 22 for 218 yards) and running back Mohamed Ibrahim (23 carries, 157 yards, 2 touchdowns).
But the defense also came up with three turnovers and all were deep in Ohio State territory – Kendall Sheffield’s interception was at the 13-yard line, Jeffrey Okudah’s fumble recovery was at the 24-yard line and Isaiah Pryor’s interception was at the 2-yard line.
“Minnesota came in and swung hard,” Meyer said. “The saying right now that I’m using is enhance our strengths and let’s fix our weaknesses. We’re going to have to get some things fixed. What we’re going to do is enjoy our win. Not many teams are 7-0. We’ll get some things fixed and get ready for the trip to Purdue.”