Can Cardale Jones capitalize on a second chance vs. Minnesota?
Who: Minnesota vs. No. 3 Ohio State
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Ohio Stadium, Ohio State
Spread: Ohio State -24
Matchup to watch: Eric Murray vs. Michael Thomas
If you miss this matchup on Saturday, don’t worry. You might get another chance to see it on a Sunday soon. A pair of NFL prospects will battle on the outside in what should be a tough, physical battle. That’s the key for Thomas against Murray. If Murray knocks Thomas off his routes, he’ll be taken out of the game. We haven’t seen a corner erase Thomas because even when he’s covered, he still has the ability to catch a variety of throws. With Cardale Jones getting the start, we should see Ohio State take some chances downfield. Thomas has been the one steady presence among the Buckeye receivers this year. But the Buckeye gameplan changes if Thomas is locked down by Murray all night.
Thing I’m excited to see: Ohio State quarterbacks
The never-ending quarterback rotation will continue on Saturday when Jones gets another crack at the starting gig. Will we get the 2014 postseason version? Or will we get the 2015 regular season version? We might not get either. It’s almost as if anything less than Jones looking like his 2015 postseason self was going to be deemed a failure. That’s all in the past. We should now how have more realistic expectations of Jones, as in, he’ll make some throws that make you scratch your head, and he’ll also effortlessly sling a ball 60 yards without looking like he really stepped into it. You have to take the good with the bad with Jones. Just brace yourself for both. What’ll be interesting is how Braxton Miller will be used. Perhaps the worst kept secret of the week is that Miller will be involved as a quarterback. He only has one pass attempt this year, but with that shoulder fully healed I bet we see that number multiply, especially if Jones struggles to move the chains. As always, get ready for some more quarterback entertainment in Columbus.
Number to remember: 2
That’s what Ohio State ranks nationally in pass defense. Yikes, Mitch Leidner. Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Buckeyes is the fact that they’ve spent nearly the entire season playing with a lead, and still nobody can pass against them. Gareon Conley and Vonn Bell have both been exceptional in the secondary and Ohio State’s pass rush is second-to-none. It’s worth noting that Leidner is coming off his second straight 300-yard passing game, which was against a Michigan defense that ranks second nationally. The Buckeyes have also been vulnerable against mobile quarterbacks, and will face one in Leidner. The Gophers were successful against Michigan not because they threw the ball a bunch — Leinder only completed 16 of his 33 passes — but because they sustained long drives on the ground. If Minnesota is going to hang around, it’s better off trying to control the clock and take single coverage shots downfield.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Minnesota 14
Call it a cop out if you want. I get that the spread is 24 points, but I don’t think we see anything too unexpected in this one. It’d be surprising to see the Gopher offense look as balanced as it did against Michigan. This could easily turn into a ground-and-pound battle for both teams, though we know who has the edge in that department. I don’t think Jones does enough to win his job back. I do think Ohio State struggles to distance itself early, and the running game ultimately lifts the Buckeyes to a ho-hum three-possession win. But hey, there’s nothing ho-hum about 9-0.