Three Ohio State Keys to Victory Against Minnesota

If the Buckeyes handle these few things, they'll walk away from Thursday's game with a win.
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Ohio State begins its Big Ten title defense on Thursday night in a hostile environment. By all accounts, this team is ready to go and is ready to open their path back to a College Football Playoff spot.

Here are three things I think Ohio State must do to start the season 1-0.

Make C.J. Stroud Comfortable

Ryan Day has said on countless occasions that he tries to create an environment in practice that will be more challenging than on game day itself. Considering his success rate the last two seasons, I have to imagine that he does a pretty good job of that. So it's fair to think that new starting quarterback C.J. Stroud won't have a deer-in-the-headlights look when he first heads out there to lead the offense.

But it's his first career start, he's on the road in a conference game and the whole world is watching. There is an element of needing to embrace whatever butterflies he might be feeling  and get into the rhythm of the game as quickly as possible. I want to see Ohio State's veteran players make life easy on him in the first few series. The offensive line needs to protect him well and hopefully Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson can make a couple early catches that allow Stroud to settle in.

Get in the Backfield on Defense

The Rushmen didn't have a problem creating pressure last year, but they had a much lower sacks per game total as a team than they're used to posting. The Buckeyes averaged just 2.67 sacks per contest last year, which is the team's lowest since the 2016 season.

Minnesota has a terrific offensive line and Daniel Faalele in particular is going to be really tough to move around (he's 6-foot-9, 380 pounds). Considering how well Mohamed Ibrahim ran the ball last year, I think the Buckeyes will win this game if they can find ways to control the line of scrimmage when they're on defense, they'll end up with a W.

Take the Crowd Out of The Game Early

Perhaps this is hyperbole, perhaps it's manufactured. But I think there's something to it. The biggest crowd the Buckeyes played in front of last year was in the national championship game, which featured fewer than 20,000 fans. Most of the season was played in front of really small crowds, if any at all.

I think there is going to be a little extra adrenaline pumping in the Scarlet and Gray veins when they're back in front of 50,000 people, under the lights on national TV. I think Ohio State needs to find a way to make a couple big early plays and negate any impact the Gophers fans could make on the game. Road environments in the Big Ten can be tough, especially when it's your first game back under these "normal" conditions. Take the crowd out of the game early on and the Buckeyes could have a much easier night.

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