Suspended quarterback J.T. Barrett watched Ohio State’s 28-14 victory over Minnesota with the coaches in the press box Saturday night at Ohio Stadium. Running back Ezekiel Elliott revealed after the game Barrett talked to his teammates at halftime, encouraging them just as he did throughout the week of practice.
The No. 3 Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) won their 22nd straight game. They tied the NCAA record for consecutive conference victories with their 29th straight win in the Big Ten. Urban Meyer became the first FBS coach in 100 years to win 47 of his first 50 games with a program.
Although the winning continued, the Buckeyes did feel the absence of Barrett. An offense that hit on all cylinders in a 49-7 victory at Rutgers two weeks earlier punted on its first four drives and produced one touchdown in the first half.
“We expect to play better,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “I hate to say that because that sometimes sounds like we’re taking away from our opponent, because they’re a pretty rugged group. But just expect much more efficiency out of our offense.”
Meyer didn’t reveal after the game who will start at quarterback at noon Saturday when Ohio State plays Illinois in Champaign, Ill., but Jones didn’t play well enough to make Meyer’s decision difficult. It seems likely Barrett will return to the starting role with the toughest games of the season, against Michigan State and Michigan, looming later this month.
That’s one of the five takeaways from the victory:
1. Sub-par Jones: Jones completed 12 of 22 passes for 187 yards with one touchdown. He rushed 12 times for 65 yards and scored on a 38-yard run in the fouth quarter to clinch the victory. He didn’t throw an interception but lost a fumble.
Minnesota sacked Jones three times for a loss of 22 yards on Ohio State’s first three possessions. Jones called the early troubles self-inflicted wounds.
“It took us a while to settle down, to get into a rhythm,” he said.
2. Big-play Bell: Safety Vonn Bell’s 16-yard interception return broke a scoreless tie with 4:53 left in the first half. Bell has two of Ohio State’s four defensive touchdowns this season.
Officials threw a flag on the play and called linebacker Joshua Perry for targeting, but they overturned the penalty on review, allowing the touchdown to stand.
“I was just like, ‘It’s in God’s hands. Let me just stay out here please,’” Perry said. “You just never know with one of those calls.”
3. Consistent Elliott: Elliott hit the century mark for the 14th straight game, gaining 121 yards on 26 carries. His 15-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the first half gave Ohio State a 14-0 halftime lead.
“He’s an animal. I love that kid,” Meyer said of Elliott. “He’s a team player. You can see how he was holding onto the ball because they were trying to strip it there at the end. He was excellent in pass protection again tonight. He’s a work horse.”
4. Injured Miller: Braxton Miller made only one catch, but it was Ohio State’s longest play of the night, a 45-yard reception in the fourth quarter. Miller hit the ground hard after the catch and remained on the turf as his teammates and then the trainers and Meyer checked on him.
Trainers helped Miller off the field. He left the field with a hood over his head and didn’t join the team as it sang “Carmen Ohio” after the game. After the game, Meyer said he thinks Miller will be OK.
“I think he just got the wind knocked out of him or dinged a little bit,” Meyer said.
5. Poor finish: Ohio State’s defense pitched a shutout for three quarters and forced the Golden Gophers to go three-and-out on their first three drives of the second half.
Minnesota got back into the game, cutting a 21-0 deficit to 21-14, with two touchdown passes by Mitch Leidner in the fourth quarter. A 57-yard pass set up the second touchdown. Ohio State’s tendency to give up big plays continues to be one of its weaknesses.
“Finishing is a big part of what we have to do,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “We played really solid in those last seven to eight minutes of the game. There are just some maturity things, and we have to be able to finish.”