Many of the question marks related to this year’s squad are on the other side of the ball. Ohio State is only returning 11 starters for the 2021 season (Minnesota is bringing back 20 of its 22 from last year), but the Buckeyes have fabulous talent in places where there is turnover.
With that in mind, here are a few clashes that I will be particularly attentive to.
Ohio State QB CJ Stroud vs. Minnesota Defensive Coordinator Joe Rossi
I think it could be an interesting chess match. It seems like everyone at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center thinks Stroud is capable of leading this team to their lofty goals in 2021. But Thursday night will be his first chance to prove it. He has a ton of talent around him. If he can avoid returning the ball, Stroud could start his career in Ohio State well.
Meanwhile, Joe Rossi’s defense last year had flashes of good play, but largely struggled against some of the best offense in the league. He’s got three graduate transfers that strengthen this year’s squad, including former Clemson defensive lineman Niles Pinckney. Rossi certainly saw the strip in last year’s Ohio State game against Indiana, and his defense struggled to get into the backfield last year. What kinds of blitzes could he come up with to try to confuse Stroud and force him to make bad decisions?
Ohio State right tackle Dawand Jones v Minnesota Defensive Ends
Dawand Jones won’t necessarily scare the Gophers as they used to face Daniel Faalele in practice every day. But obviously Jones has taken football a lot more seriously over the past couple of years after focusing primarily on basketball as a prep player and now he’s becoming a legitimate force on the offensive line.
Still, he’s likely to be a very important part of Buckeye’s offensive line as he has to replace two starters and all three returns switch positions. The Buckeyes know they can run behind Nick Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford on the left side of the line. Jones is likely to make his second career start on Thursday, playing alongside much-vaunted Paris Johnson, who will also likely make his first start. I expect the Gophers to try to find ways to make Jones’ life difficult and test his mobility.
Ohio State Wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson vs. Minnesota cornerbacks Terell Smith and Coney Durr
It will be the toughest game Smith and Durr have had this whole season, and maybe they’ve had at any point in their careers. PJ Fleck was extremely outspoken last week in praising the talent in the Ohio State wide reception hall. He’s got a fourth-year and sixth-year player respectively who must try to play like upper-class men and keep the Buckeyes out of the defense early on.
If you are a Buckeye fan, you will try your luck every time with Olave and Wilson. These guys could very well be the two best receivers in America and each one explained how they think CJ Stroud has improved the quality of their room in general. Look for them to try and make a few plays to take away any hopes Minnesota has of upsetting. Plus, with a 50 percent chance of rain forecast in Minneapolis, Olave and Wilson are very capable race blockers and could impact that way as well.
Be sure to check out our brand new message boards, Buckeye Forums. We would love to have you part of the conversation during the season.
You may also like:
Game Prediction: No.4 Ohio Buckeyes vs Minnesota Golden Gophers
Three keys to Ohio state to win over Minnesota
Ohio State defensive end Tyler Friday for the season with ripped ACL
Ohio State QB Quinn Ewers reportedly signed $ 1 million plus approval deal
Thayer Munford of Ohio State will be available for season opener in Minnesota
Make sure you stay locked in BuckeyesNow all the time!
Join the BuckeyesNow community!
Subscribe to the BuckeyesNow YouTube channel
Follow Brendan on Twitter: @ BrendanGulick22
Follow BuckeyesNow on Twitter: @BuckeyesNowSI
Like and follow BuckeyesNow on Facebook