No. 8 Ohio State tops Minnesota to stay in playoff hunt
Minneapolis — J.T. Barrett broke three of Braxton Miller's records, the latest breakthrough for this remarkable replacement.
Ohio State's pursuit of a place in the College Football Playoff stayed steady with a tough win on the road.
Barrett threw for three touchdowns and ran for an Ohio State quarterback-record 189 yards and a score, helping the eighth-ranked Buckeyes overcome three turnovers and wintry weather to beat Minnesota, 31-24, on Saturday afternoon.
"I challenge any team in the country that wants to, go ahead and schedule this one in November, whatever it is, against a very good team," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "Have at it."
Barrett completed 15 of 25 passes for 200 yards and one interception, another stellar performance by the freshman fill-in for the injured Miller following last week's rout of Michigan State.
Barrett topped Miller's 186 yards rushing against Nebraska in 2012. With 38 touchdowns this season, he has beaten the 36 scores Miller had last year.
"I had no idea that this is who J.T. Barrett is," Meyer said. "Very clear picture of who he is now."
Jalin Marshall had 107 total yards for the Buckeyes (9-1, 6-0 Big Ten, No. 8 CFP), but he lost two fumbles to give the Gophers (7-3, 4-2, No. 25 CFP) a chance to come back.
"Kind of rough, especially in that first half," Barrett said.
David Cobb ran 27 times for 145 yards and three touchdowns, but Minnesota didn't quite do enough to avoid a 37th loss in 39 games against Ohio State since 1966. The confidence the Gophers expressed after the game, though, was more evidence of the progress under coach Jerry Kill.
They can still win the West Division and set up a likely rematch with the Buckeyes by winning at No. 11 Nebraska and at No. 22 Wisconsin the next two weeks.
"Every guy on our team believes that we're a good enough team to win those games," Cobb said.
Linebacker DeVondre Campbell took that bold statement a step further.
"Ohio State is a good team. They're very disciplined. I think that has a lot to do with their head coach. He's been in championship programs, so he knows what it takes," Campbell said. "But I don't think they're better than us. Honestly, I really don't."
The Gophers were frustrated by three glaring second-half mistakes.
After Ryan Santoso's tying 52-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright, preserving a 17-14 lead for the Buckeyes in the third quarter, a blown coverage on the next possession during a moment of confusion by the Minnesota defense left Michael Thomas wide open for a 30-yard touchdown catch. Kill said the cold contributed to a headset malfunction and that he wanted to call timeout.
Then in the fourth quarter, an illegal formation penalty negated a successful sneak for a first down by quarterback Mitch Leidner. Forced to pass on third-and-6, he was intercepted by Vonn Bell. Then Barrett responded with a 22-yard completion to Evan Spencer for a score that pushed the lead to 31-14.
"Just critical errors, and against Ohio State we can't make them," Kill said.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun forced two turnovers for the Gophers in the coldest kickoff, 15 degrees, in six seasons at TCF Bank Stadium. The lowest temperature in Buckeyes records dating back more than a half-century featured snowflakes collecting on Meyer's uncovered head on the sideline.
Whether in wintry or summer-like conditions, though, Ohio State has the fastest team in the Big Ten. The 12th-ranked Spartans and their otherwise-dominant defense learned that lesson last week. Barrett kept the ball on a third-and-1 read-option play in the first quarter and burst into a wide-open secondary for an 86-yard run, the longest by an Ohio State quarterback. Miller had an 81-yard scamper against Indiana in 2012.
"The dude can run," Kill said.
Barrett has accounted for 34 touchdowns since the loss at home to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6.
The Gophers made the Buckeyes earn this, though.
Boddy-Calhoun's 56-yard interception return set up Cobb's first score. He forced a fumble at the goal line by Marshall that Campbell recovered in the end zone, and Cobb rumbled for a 30-yard touchdown on third-and-15 to tie the game with 1:24 left before halftime.
Marshall's fumbled punt return gave Minnesota the ball at the 14, and Cobb scored again as the clock moved under 8 minutes remaining. Santoso made a 34-yarder with 1:19 left to make it 31-24, but Ohio State recovered the onside kick.
"I think maybe the committee knows that that's a good football team now," Spencer said. "If you watch film on them, you know that that's a good football team, hands down. I think we did really well."