When the Ohio State football team travels to Minneapolis this weekend, one thing is for sure — it’s going to be cold.
But OSU coach Urban Meyer doesn’t care.
“I don’t even talk (about it),” Meyer said Wednesday. “We have had to play a couple cold games already, so it’s no issue.”
The last time the Buckeyes traveled to Minneapolis to play the Golden Gophers — in 2010 — OSU came away with a convincing 52-10 victory.
This, however, is a different Minnesota team.
The Golden Gophers currently control their own destiny in the Big Ten West Division as they currently sit at 7-2, 4-1 following a 51-14 win over Iowa last week.
Following their big win, the Golden Gophers jumped into the College Football Playoff rankings at No. 25, something that Meyer said was surprising.
“I think they are much higher than that,” he said. “When I see them play, I think they are very good.”
Coming off a big win of its own against Michigan State, OSU junior offensive lineman Taylor Decker said he hopes the Buckeyes can carry over the intensity from last week into preparation for the Golden Gophers.
“We have been talking about, why can’t we prepare every week like we did for Michigan State? Keep that high level of preparation and execution going into every game,” Decker said Wednesday. “That should be the norm around here. The norm should be to control every single game.”
Redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall said the Buckeyes have even given a nickname to their new outlook.
“We have been calling this the ‘new normal,’ preparing like we did last week,” Marshall said. “I feel like last week we prepared extra hard because it was a bigger game. I feel like if we do that from weeks in and weeks out, I feel like we will have success.”
Marshall is likely to get more touches this week as sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson suffered a broken foot against the Spartans and is expected to miss three to four weeks, Meyer said.
Marshall said he’s prepared for the likelihood of more touches, but added he is upset over the injury to his teammate.
“It’s heartbreaking to me because we are so close,” Marshall said. “But I feel like I am ready to take on the role to play a little bit more at the H-back position.”
Marshall said he has also taken reps as a kick returner this week to replace Wilson — along with senior wide receiver Devin Smith and freshman running back Curtis Samuel — but feels confident he can be the one to replace his injured teammate.
“I feel like if they call my number, I can get the job done,” he said.
No matter who ultimately takes Wilson’s spot, junior offensive lineman Jacoby Boren said he doesn’t think the Buckeye offense will miss a beat with a replacement.
“(Losing) Dontre is a big hit, but we have a lot of depth. A lot of guys that can do a lot of great things back there,” Boren said Wednesday. “I’m sure Curtis will be stepping in, he will be doing great things. I have a lot of confidence in him and some of the other guys.”
While Boren is confident in the offense, the Buckeyes will be going up against a defense that has allowed just 21.3 points per game and a defensive line that Meyer described as “rugged.”
“I think it’s an upper level, maybe top two or three defensive lines in the Big Ten conference,” Meyer said.
Decker added that the Minnesota defense is comparable to what the Buckeyes saw from the Spartans last weekend.
“From everything we have seen on film, (they) are very similar. As far as a whole team, they are probably one of the better teams we are going to play all year,” Decker said. “Their scheme is very similar to Michigan State’s. Their blitz tendencies are a little different, but as far as an overall defense, very similar.”
On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes will be facing a Minnesota offense that boasts one of the best running backs in the conference in senior David Cobb.
Cobb is averaging 133.9 yards per game in 2014, good for fourth in the Big Ten. OSU co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash said Monday that Cobb’s success is because of the Minnesota big guys up front.
“Starts with their offensive line, they’re doing a great job blocking up front for him. He’s a hard runner. When he gets that ball, he’s a downhill runner,” Ash said. “He keeps his legs driving all the time. He’s a load. He’s a challenge. And he fits well with their scheme.”
The Golden Gophers rely heavily on their run game, as they rank last in the Big Ten in passing offense, averaging just 140.2 yards per game through the air.
Despite Minnesota’s run-reliant offense, Ash said the Buckeyes must still be aware of the Golden Gopher aerial attack.
“They do such a good job of running the football right now, you’ve got to devote more defenders to stop the run. And it isolates your backs in one-on-one situations,” Ash said. “They’ve done a great job exploiting that. Taken deep shots in certain personnel groupings over the top and connected with them. Obviously that increases your average per completion when you’re able to do that. So they’ve done a good job with that to complement the run game.”
Despite cold weather being almost certain — the projected high for game day as of Wednesday night was 28 degrees — and going up against a physical offense, junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington said he is excited for the challenge.
“Definitely. But when it’s cold, you really find out who wants to play football,” Washington said Wednesday. “The running backs might not run as hard when it’s cold, so we will see.”
Washington added that he, along with the rest of the team, is aware that the Buckeyes can’t look past the Golden Gophers, despite now being first in the Big Ten East Division.
“It is just as big. This is kind of like one of those trap games,” Washington said. “It’s going to be cold, we just have to go out there and play because Minnesota is 7-2, and they are not a bad team.”
Decker echoed Washington’s comments, adding that the Buckeyes were still intense this week during practice.
“We can’t sleep on this team. If we go in there not prepared, it is like walking into a hornet’s nest,” Decker said. “The weather is going to suck, we haven’t played a lot of early games this year and we just came off a big win so if we are not locked in and prepared, it could be bad for us. We just got some momentum last week, and we just have to keep that going.”
The Buckeyes will look to do just that as kickoff is set for noon on Saturday in Minneapolis.