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Gophers flirt with upset but Ohio State pulls away

Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim (24) eludes Ohio State Buckeyes safety Isaiah Pryor (12) during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 13, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Joe Maiorana / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Demetrius Douglas (82) is tackled by Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Dallas Gant (19) and linebacker Keandre Jones (16) during the second quarter of their game Saturday, Oct. 13, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Joe Maiorana / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The TV promos started during the Vikings game last Sunday, continued through the NFL’s Thursday night game and rolled into the major league baseball playoffs Friday.

It all seemed like commercial overkill of a nationally televised college football game, with third-ranked Ohio State being a 29-point favorite over the middling Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Then the first half Saturday, Oct. 13, at Ohio Stadium produced four lead changes, with Minnesota up 7-3 and 14-10, piquing interest over a potential monumental upset of the reigning Big Ten champions and a current College Football Playoff contender.

But before the game turned into a true #UpsetAlert, causing casual fans to flip channels to FS1, the Buckeyes quelled some of that intrigue with a touchdown to take a 17-14 lead with four minutes before halftime. Yet they didn’t step on the gas in the second half, managing only two field goals by Blake Haubeil before tacking on a late touchdown for a 30-14 win over Minnesota.

“Everyone was frustrated because there was a moment in that game where we really could have pulled this upset off and come out of here with a victory,” senior linebacker Blake Cashman said.

More like moments that had Gophers fans recalling their 29-17 upset of No. 6 Ohio State in 2000, but three turnovers led to 10 points for Ohio State and set up Minnesota’s 11th straight loss in the series. Minnesota lost its third straight Big Ten game to fall to 0-3 in the league and 3-3 overall, while the Buckeyes improved to 7-0 and 4-0.

“They are so talented,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said, “that they somehow force you to be able to beat yourself at some point. Now last week (a 49-26 win over Indiana), they turned the ball over (three times), and they didn’t give us any. When a team like that, the number three ranked team in the country gives you nothing, you can’t give them anything back.”

With a 14-10 lead, the Gophers’ defense stuffed the Buckeyes on fourth and 1 from Minnesota’s 17 in the second quarter, and running back Mohamed Ibrahim quickly busted off a 34-yard run into Ohio State territory. But two plays later, receiver Tyler Johnson lost a fumble after a 13-yard reception.

Within six plays, Buckeyes receiver K.J. Hill made a one-handed catch on a 34-yard touchdown for anther lead change — one they wouldn’t relinquish. Minnesota didn’t score again.

Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins continued his Heisman Trophy campaign with 412 passing yards and three touchdowns, the last ballooning the lead with two minutes left and giving the Buckeyes’ crowd of 100,042 the ability to comfortably make their way to the exits.

Earlier, the Gophers were able to hang around as the Buckeyes extended their halftime lead to 20-14 with a 47-yard field goal by Haubeil in the third quarter and a 27-yarder in the fourth.

Minnesota’s Emmit Carpenter, who had made 89 percent of his field-goal attempts (8 of 9) this season, missed from 32 yards in the third quarter and 49 in the fourth. Both went wide right.

A Gophers trick play kept it interesting in the fourth quarter. A reverse flea flicker pass from quarterback Zack Annexstad to tight end Bryce Witham went for 41 yards, but Annexstad soon followed it up with a second interception.

The Gophers’ start made the game look ominous and the point spread accurate. On their opening drive, Annexstad was intercepted after a few positive plays into Ohio State’s side of the field. Both picks were overthrows by Annexstad on long passes.

After Annexstad’s first interception, Ohio State drove 81 yards on its first possession, boosted by a 42-yard reception safety Antonio Shenault gave up to Hill. But the Gophers’ Carter Coughlin and Coney Durr provided stops in the red zone to force the Buckeyes to kick a 21-yard field goal and take a 3-0 lead.

The Gophers’ defense continued to hang tough when up 7-3. On a fourth and 2, Ohio State’s Mike Weber appeared to be tackled short of the first down but received a controversial spot that gave the Buckeyes a first down. On the next play, Haskins threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin.

“Games usually come down to six or seven plays, either side of the ball,” Fleck said. “… And that’s what it was. Explosive plays that they had. Take those out and I said (to the players), ‘What you showed was, we can be a really good football team.’ ”