MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The last time No. 10 Ohio State hit the road, they played a nationally televised night game against an opponent eager to prove it wouldn’t bow down to the mighty Buckeyes.
Two weeks after their only loss of the season at Wisconsin, Ohio State (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) finds itself in another nationally televised night game away from home. This time, they’re facing an opponent that has nothing to lose. In some ways, that may be just as dangerous.
Minnesota (1-7, 0-4) has lost seven straight games, is playing for an interim head coach after Tim Brewster was fired and hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes at home since 1981. With all of that going against the Golden Gophers, the sense of dread that preceded Brewster’s firing has given way to a more care-free approach heading into the final four games of the season.
“It’s Halloween against a top-10 team in a new stadium,” Gophers safety Kyle Theret said with a shrug. “So why not?”
This will be the Buckeyes’ first trip to Minnesota’s new TCF Bank Stadium, and the buzz from playing a game under the lights on one of the biggest party nights of the year on campus figures to help inject some energy into a student section that has been worn down by all the losing.
But all those costumes in the stands may not be able to help the Gophers too much once the game begins.
“It’s up to us to do it. No one is going to help us,” interim coach Jeff Horton said. “You’d hope on Halloween somebody else would show up in Ohio State uniforms. But they’re the ones who are showing up so we’ve got to be ready to go.”
Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes really don’t know what to expect on Saturday night. They will be playing in a new stadium against a struggling team that had six coordinators in less than four years under Brewster.
“It’s hard to tell from film exactly what they do,” cornerback Chimdi Chekwa said. “It’s hard to get a bead and lots of times when they play us they change it up a little bit anyway. We just have to go in expecting everything and do what we do and make sure we do what we do to the best of our ability.”
Ohio State bounced back last week in a big way from the loss to the Badgers, routing Purdue 49-0 at home. Pryor is just 2 yards away from becoming the third Buckeye to amass 7,000 career total yards and Ohio State also brings a stingy defense that leads the nation in forced three-and-outs per game.
After facing the Gophers on Saturday, the Buckeyes will have a bye week before finishing the season with a home game against Penn State, a road trip to Iowa and the annual showdown with Michigan on the final day of the season.
Even with the one loss, the Buckeyes are still holding out hope to get back into the national title picture. Losing to Minnesota would flush those dreams in a hurry.
“We’re going to be ready for whatever they have, whether they’re playing for nothing to lose or not,” Pryor said. “Because we have something to lose.”
The Gophers are now two weeks removed from Brewster’s firing, a move that shook the team even though it had been talked about for weeks. They lost at home to Penn State 33-21 in Horton’s first game last week.
“Everybody’s another week in,” Horton said. “Hopefully that brings more stability to an unstable situation.”
All the stability in the world may not be enough to help the Gophers when the Buckeyes roll into town. Ohio State ranks in the top 10 in eight statistical categories, including turnover margin (third), total defense (third) and scoring offense (sixth).
It will be the 50th meeting between the two schools, and the Buckeyes have won 42 of them.
“It’s a great feeling to know that really we have no pressure at all,” quarterback Adam Weber said. “They’re not going to get fired twice and we only have a few more games left. So we can really go out there and throw anything we want at them.
“That’s got to be kind of scary for a defense just because you’re not really sure what you’re going to get out of an offense.”
Scary may be a little strong, but the Buckeyes say they’re not taking this game lightly.
“They lost their coach but we expect the unexpected with them,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “We have to be ready for anything.”
(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)