COLUMBUS – Ryan Day might have faced a bigger challenge before Ohio State’s 37-3 win over Minnesota on Saturday than the Buckeyes got from the Gophers on the field.
All the Buckeyes had to do was beat a middle of the pack Big Ten football team and keep their minds on the task at hand, not their next game seven days ahead of them against Michigan.
Despite a bit of a slow start, the Buckeyes checked that box with ease.
But before they did, Day had to convince star linebacker Tommy Eichenberg that the best thing for him to do was sit out Saturday’s game so an arm injury he suffered against Rutgers would be close to 100 percent healed for the showdown for the Big Ten East Division title against Michigan.
Eichenberg, who is intensity personified, was having none of that plan at first. Especially since it was Senior Day and he would not be able to play in his final game in Ohio Stadium.
“We’ll get Tommy back next for next week. Tommy was ready to play in this one and I had to pull him back. It was almost a fist fight but I won,” Day said, with a smile, after the game.
“It took some late night texts last night. He wanted to play. I just explained to him there was too much on the line moving forward to risk any kind of setback. We need him at his best. Once he calmed down he was OK. But it was not easy for him to not play in this game,” the OSU coach said.
Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) ripped through Minnesota defense with an 8-play, 85-yard drive the first time it had the ball and took a 7-0 lead on a 9-yard touchdown run by TreVeyon Henderson
But Minnesota (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) limited OSU to two field goals by Jayden Fielding – a career-best 47 yarder and a 26-yard kick – the rest of the first half.
The first two minutes of the second half put the Buckeyes solidly in control, though.
Henderson scored on a 75-yard touchdown run on Ohio State’s first offensive play of the third quarter to make it 20-0.
Then on Minnesota’s first play following Henderson’s touchdown, OSU defensive end Jack Sawyer hit the Gophers’ quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis and caused a fumble. The Buckeyes’ other defensive end, J.T. Tuimoloau picked up the fumble and took it to the 6-yard line.
Three plays later quarterback Kyle McCord threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Harrison Jr. to put OSU up 27-0.
Fielding kicked his third field goal of the night, from 42 yards later in the third quarter, and McCord threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Cade Stover in the fourth quarter to complete OSU’s scoring.
Henderson rushed for 148 yards on 15 carries. McCord was 20 of 30 for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Emeka Egbuka played his strongest game since coming back from an injury against Purdue with 5 catches for 83 yards.
Ohio State had 434 yards of total offense and held Minnesota to 159 yards. Sawyer led the defense with 6 tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses, a sack and a forced fumble.
For the second straight week OSU’s defense came up just short of a shutout because of a field goal of more than 50 yards.
Minnesota’s Dragan Kesich connected from 54 yards Saturday. Last Saturday in a 38-3 Ohio State win over Michigan State, the Spartans’ only points came on a 53-yard field goal by Jonathan Kim.
“Obviously, we’d like to get a goose egg up there but we played a good game,” Sawyer said. The offense played well. We’re getting guys healthy and all the focus goes on the team up north next week.”
Sawyer said he didn’t realize at first that he had forced a fumble. “I sacked him but I didn’t know it was a strip sack until I heard the crowd going crazy. I rolled over and saw JT was running. I thought he was going to get in the end zone.
“I think the defense played a great game overall. You can just go down the list of guys who are progressively getting better as the season goes on,” he said.