P.J. Fleck knows how intimidating Ohio Stadium can be.
The Illinois native was a graduate assistant at Ohio Stadium in 2006 when the Buckeyes went unbeaten at home, including a 42-39 win over No. 2 Michigan that remains one of the most memorable games in the series.
Now the Minnesota head coach, he hopes to get as many butterflies out as he can before the Golden Gophers take on the No. 3 Buckeyes at noon Saturday.
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“We have 33 freshmen on our two-deep, so this is going to be the biggest stadium they have ever seen in their entire life, and they’re gonna walk in there (Friday) and we’re going to do everything we can to try to get that moment out of how big Ohio Stadium is but also respect the tradition it has,” he said Tuesday. “I think that’s really important for our young players to understand, that the Big Ten has so much tradition and we’re part of it.”
Here are five things to know about the game:
1. The next “senator”?
When talking about Ohio State, the Minnesota coach sounded a little like his former boss, Jim Tressel, whose talent for filibustering with the media earned him the nickname, “The Senator” during his career at Ohio State.
“The biggest challenges are everywhere,” Fleck said when asked about the Buckeyes this week. “They’re so skillful everywhere: Offense, defense, special teams. They’ve got depth everywhere. They’re big they’re strong, they’re fast, but I think one of the things as you evaluate them on film they’ve got incredible discipline.”
(He wasn’t done.)
“They know their schemes. They’re disciplined to their schemes, and a lot of teams they beat end up beating themselves. That’s why they’re so aggressive. They play a lot of press bump-and-run and they want to make you if you’re going to throw the ball deep and have a low-percentage throw throughout the entire game and complete that all the time to be able to beat them.”
2. Ohio State wants to rev up running game.
Fleck also expressed great respect for Ohio State’s running game the same week Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he wants to see more from it.
“They’re very talented,” Fleck said of a group that is 41st in the nation averaging 201.0 yards per game. “Just because you don’t see the stats doesn’t mean they’re not very good. When they run the football, they’re very, very efficient. They’re just so good in the pass game and when you’re a head football coach and you’re designing what you’re doing, you’re going with what’s working.”
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3. What about the pass rush?
While Ohio State's pass defense was under the microscope again this week, Meyer acknowledged one way to prevent opponents from attacking the Buckeye secondary is to sack the opposing quarterback.
Ohio State is fourth in the country and No. 1 in the Big Ten with 3.7 sacks per game, but Myer called his team’s pass rush just average without injured star Nick Bosa, who is still recovering from a core muscle injury.
“Obviously, when you lose a guy like Bosa that’s going to be a tremendous hit, but the other guys have worked really hard,’ Meyer said. “It’s not what we expect but it’s getting close.”
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Tackle Robert Landers, a Wayne High School grad who declared himself 100 percent this week after playing through an undisclosed injury the past three weeks, would like to give the secondary a hand whenever he can.
“At the end of the day our defense tied in all as one, so how we look at it is one of those things were as a D-line if I can get to the quarterback before he throws the ball, that makes the DB’s job a lot easier,” Landers said. “As a DB, if they shut down the (receiver), not giving the quarterback a target to hit, that makes our job easier. So it goes hand in hand from the Line to the LBs to the DBs. So we just all play as one.”
4. The Golden Gophers have struggled on offense but rank 21st in the nation in total defense (324.2 yards per game) this season.
Meyer cited that figure multiple times during the week, but Fleck countered with a, “What have you done for me lately?” stance toward his team.
“When you give up 90 points the last two weeks I wouldn’t consider it outstanding right now but our front seven is playing really well,” Fleck said, referring to his team losing 48-31 to Iowa last week after dropping a 42-13 decision at Maryland.
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5. This is reunion week for the 1968 national champion Buckeyes.
Beginning with coach Woody Hayes, who was born in Clifton on Valentine’s Day in 1913, the squad had numerous Miami Valley connections.
Nine of those Buckeyes were from local high schools: Doug Adams (Xenia), Thomas Bartley (Springfield South), Leo Hayden (Roosevelt), Robert “Butch” Smith (Hamilton Catholic), Larry Qualls (Belmont), Bill Long (Stebbins/Milton-Union), Bill Pollitt (Belmont), Gary Roush (Springfield South) and Jaren “Jay” Bombach (Fairview).
Meyer acknowledged not having first-hand memories of that team since he was only 4 years old at the time, but two of his mentors — Earle Bruce and Lou Holtz — were part of a star-studded staff that season.
Meyer does have a memento from that season, though: A picture of the stadium from 1968 hangs in his house “because I like Buckeyes stuff,” he said with a laugh.
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