COLUMBUS — No. 2 Ohio State shrugged off a sleepy start to blow past Minnesota, 37-3, on Saturday to set up an undefeated showdown with No. 3 Michigan in the regular season finale next week.
TreVeyon Henderson rushed for 146 yards and touchdowns, and Kyle McCord threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns as part of a 434-yard output for the Ohio State offense. Marvin Harrison Jr. hauled in a touchdown, his 13th of the year, to add to his Heisman Trophy campaign.
Minnesota was held to just 159 yards on the day and failed to cross inside the Ohio State 40-yard line until midway through the fourth quarter as Ohio State’s starting defense rested on the sideline.
Ohio State came out of the gates swinging, forcing a three-and-out on the game’s first possession before jumping out in front 7-0 on Henderson’s first touchdown on Ohio State’s first offensive possession.
Seemingly primed to deliver an early knockout blow, the Ohio State offense bogged down, managing only a pair of field goals for the remainder of the half. Jayden Fielding’s 47-yard field goal extended the Ohio State lead to 10-0 two minutes into the second quarter, and he added a 26-yard field goal late in the quarter to make it 13-0.
Despite the relatively lackluster offensive showing in the first half, the lead was plenty to win the game as the Ohio State defense hounded Minnesota early and often. The Golden Gophers were held to just 90 yards of offense in the first half, including only 33 rushing yards in the first half, and the second half proved to be more of the same.
Just as it did to begin the game, Ohio State delivered an immediate blow to start the third quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, Henderson outran the Minnesota defense 75 yards to the end zone to increase the Ohio State lead just 12 seconds into the second half.
The run was the longest of the season for Henderson’s career and gave Ohio State a 20-0 lead.
The game began to spiral in a hurry for Minnesota on the ensuing drive when quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis was stripped of the ball by Jack Sawyer. J.T. Tuimoloau recovered the loose ball and returned it to the Minnesota 6-yard line.
Sawyer’s strip-sack was the highlight of a monster afternoon for the junior defensive end, who tallied six total tackles and three tackles for loss to go along with the sack and forced fumble.
Ohio State cashed in on the turnover three plays later when McCord connected with Harrison for a 4-yard touchdown to blow the game wide open at 27-0.
Fielding added his third field goal to push the lead to 30-0, and McCord closed out the scoring for Ohio State early in the fourth quarter with his second touchdown pass. Cade Stover, one of 21 seniors to be honored before the game, hauled in the pass for his fifth touchdown of the season on what proved to be his final play in Ohio Stadium.
With Ohio State’s backups in the game, Minnesota spoiled the shutout late in the fourth quarter on a 54-yard field goal, but it did little to dampen the atmosphere on the home sideline as the final minutes ticked off the clock and Michigan week officially arrived.
Following the game, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day credited his team’s ability to start the second half quickly, something it has done well for most of the season.
“Every year, you try to identify the areas you want to improve on, and that was an area we wanted to do a great job with,” Day said. “It was good to see us come out like that, and it gave us a little bit of a cushion and allowed us to get some of those guys out of the game and rested up for next week.”
Asked if his thoughts had already shifted to Michigan before the game had ended, Day did little to deny that was the case, saying only, “No comment.”
He added, “I would just say that our team did a great job of staying focused this week. It’s not easy to do for anybody, but we did. We stayed in the moment and played well. But the minute we get into that locker room, it’s on to the next week.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.