COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s offense is humming. Its defense is still a work in progress.
When the third-ranked Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) play Minnesota (3-2, 0-2) on Saturday (noon, FS1) in Ohio Stadium, they’ll be focused on keeping the offense rolling and trying to get the defense to approach the same level.
Ohio State’s defense has played well in stretches. It held Indiana to 89 yards and six points in the second half of a 49-26 victory last Saturday. But the first half was a different story.
“We’re not coaching well enough and we’re not playing well enough right now for the standard of an Ohio State defense,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “A lot of things go into that, but it’s our job to fix it. That’s what’s gonna happen.”
Injuries haven’t helped the defense. Defensive end Nick Bosa, one of the best players in the country, remains out after core muscle surgery. Defensive tackles Dre’Mont Jones and Roberts Landers have persevered through injuries.
Jones graded the defense halfway through the season as “probably a B-minus, or a C-plus.”
“We give up too many big plays,” he said. “Our turnovers are there. Stopping the run is kind of there. Big plays are killing us.”
Ohio State ranks No. 56 in the country in yards allowed per game but leads the Big Ten with 22 sacks because of a fierce pass rush led by defensive end Chase Young and Jones.
“We look at everything, overanalyze everything,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s a variety of things. But we tried to build on positives and the positives are that the second half they played outstanding.”
Those struggles on defense might not be as noticeable this week against Minnesota, which has lost consecutive Big Ten games to Maryland and Iowa while giving up 40-plus points in each.
The Gophers start walk-on true freshman Zack Annexstad at quarterback and are without two of their best players. Running back Rodney Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury and defensive back/returner Antoine Winfield Jr. also is out for the year.
On defense, Minnesota ranks No. 21 in the country with 324 yards per game allowed. The Gophers lean heavily on junior linebacker Carter Coughlin, who has five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Last week in a 48-31 loss to Iowa, a strip sack by Coughlin led to a touchdown.
But Minnesota will have its hands full and then some trying to stop Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins and a deep group of wide receivers.
In six games, Haskins has thrown for 25 touchdowns against four interceptions while completing more than 71 percent of his passes, and he’s well on his way to setting a number of records if he continues on his current pace.
In the win over Indiana, Haskins finished with 455 yards passing and six touchdowns but was not totally satisfied. Ohio State would like to get its running game going after picking up 154 yards on the ground against Indiana.
“I thought it was pretty solid … and even though we know that we won the game, there are things we’ve got to work on, of course,” he said. “But be satisfied with the ‘W,’ and looking forward to playing Minnesota.”
The Gophers have never had much success in games at Ohio State. And while second-year coach P.J. Fleck aspires to pull off a huge upset as a 31-point underdog, he’ll keep working to build the program no matter what happens Saturday.
“For us, just as we treat everything, everything is the next step,” Fleck said. “We’ve got to look at in terms of, it’s one game. One game doesn’t define your season, win or lose. But it’s a wonderful environment for us to know.
“When you’re going to go play a champion, you’ve got to know what one looks like. You’ve got to know what one hits like what they feel like, what they breathe like, how fast they play, how organized they are, the small … details.”