Ohio State facing must-win game

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 19, 1999

The Associated Press

The beleaguered Buckeyes must win three of their remaining five games in order to qualify for a bowl invitation.

Tuesday, October 19, 1999

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The beleaguered Buckeyes must win three of their remaining five games in order to qualify for a bowl invitation. They host Illinois (3-3) and Iowa (1-5), meaning that at the very least they must win one of their three road games – all of which are against top-25 opponents.

In addition to Minnesota, they play at No. 11 Michigan State and ninth-ranked Michigan.

The Buckeyes have lost two of their last three and won the other by three points when Purdue’s last-minute field goal was blocked. They are No. 22 in the polls but eighth in the Big Ten. If they hope to go to a bowl game for the 11th year in a row, they almost have to beat the 24th-ranked Gophers.

”We’ve beaten these teams pretty good the last few years,” said Cooper of Ohio State’s 15-game winning streak against Minnesota. ”Now they feel like they have a legitimate chance.”

Maybe more than just a legitimate chance. The Gophers are an early 4-point favorite.

The only stain on Minnesota’s record (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) is a 20-17 overtime loss at home to Wisconsin two weeks ago.

That same Wisconsin team reeled off the final 42 points of a humiliating 42-17 victory over the Buckeyes in Columbus the week before.

Last Saturday, Ohio State mustered just 143 yards of offense in a 23-10 loss at second-ranked Penn State that Cooper said wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.

It was the fewest yards by an Ohio State team in 18 years, since gaining 138 in a 10-7 loss at Michigan in 1971.

The Buckeyes know they have problems – and not just on offense – and realize that other teams know it, too.

”All I know is we’ve opened up a can of worms this whole year,” said captain and fullback Matt Keller, still nursing an ankle injury. ”People know they have a chance to beat us. That’s something we’ve brought on ourselves.”

Cornerback Ahmed Plummer said he knows Ohio State’s air of invincibility has disappeared.

”They are going to come in believing they can win,” he said of the Gophers. ”It’s our job to take that from them in the beginning of the game.”

He said if the Buckeyes did that, ”Hopefully they’ll go back to that old mentality of, ‘Here we go again …”

But Ohio State shouldn’t bank on that. After all, Minnesota is ranked ahead of the Buckeyes in nine of the top 10 team statistical categories kept by the Big Ten. Granted, the Gophers haven’t played a strong schedule. But then again, just like Minnesota, the Buckeyes also only have beaten one Division I-A team with a winning record.

Most of the blame from fans and media has been directed at Ohio State’s porous offensive line that allowed eight sacks last week. But that’s not the limit of the problems.

”You can certainly operate better when you can pass-protect and run-block better,” offensive coordinator Mike Jacobs said. ”But it doesn’t all fall on the offensive line. We had a collective bad game against a pretty good Penn State defense. This is a new week.”