Pat Ruff column: Time for Gophers to also play big

MINNEAPOLIS — You've got to like De'Vondre Campbell's confidence. Maybe not his wisdom, but his belief.

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Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett leaves behind Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson on his 86-yard touchdown run Saturday in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS — You've got to like De'Vondre Campbell's confidence. Maybe not his wisdom, but his belief.

It's statements like his — however erroneous — that make this Minnesota football team and program so much different than others we've seen the last 40 years.

The Gophers linebacker wrapped up his team's 31-24 loss to No. 7-ranked Ohio State by saying that the Buckeyes are not a better team than Minnesota. Campbell also had enough swagger (idiocy?) to insist that his team will be seeing OSU again in three weeks.

The junior was alluding to the Big Ten championship game. The only way 7-3 Minnesota gets there is by going on the road the next two weeks and beating two teams ranked higher than it is, first No. 21 Nebraska, then No. 14 Wisconsin.

Minnesota will be underdogs in both.


But who cares. These Gophers dare to talk big and be great. And if you don't believe? Well, then you might as well forget it.

So, well done De'Vondre. Go ahead and talk that junk, because you actually mean it. It tells us you and your team are halfway home.

"Ohio State is a good team, very disciplined and has a head coach who has been in a lot of championship programs," Campbell said of a Buckeyes program that has yet to lose a Big Ten game under third-year head coach Urban Meyer.

"But I don't think they are any better than us. I really don't. We made a lot of mistakes that caused them to score.

"But we'll see them again in three weeks."

Have to play better

Minnesota won't be seeing anyone in three weeks if it continues to play as it did Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. In front of a near-capacity crowd on a day when the temperature was a cold 18, Campbell's assessment was right. His team did make too many mistakes.

Above all, it let one player beat them. That was OSU's quarterback, redshirt freshman and Heisman Trophy hopeful J.T. Barrett.


Minnesota did nothing to discourage voting for the 6-foot-1, 225-pound speedster from Texas. On a day when Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner made plenty of mistakes on his team's read-option running plays (mostly failing to keep the ball himself), Barrett was the opposite. That led to a huge disparity in total offense between the teams, OSU finishing with 489 yards, Minnesota with 303.

The thing with Barrett is, when he's out in the open with the ball tucked under his arm, you can forget it. He's that fast.

On third-and-1 with just under 11 minutes left in the first quarter, Barrett faked a handoff, then kept it himself, slicing up the middle. He didn't stop running until he'd dashed 86 yards for a touchdown.

For a change, Minnesota has true speed in its defensive backfield. But it didn't matter. Nobody could run Barrett down.

With Barrett, we get it

So just over three minutes into the game, Gophers players and fans had discovered what all the Barrett hoopla was about. Barrett wasn't nearly done there, either. He finished with 195 yards rushing on 17 carries, and a ridiculous 11.1 per-carry average. He also threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

But it was his big gainers that killed Minnesota, especially on third down.

Campbell wasn't nearly the only one on the Gophers side who felt that not all of those yards were earned.


"(Barrett) is a heck of a player and they've got a good football team," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But at the same time, we made some mistakes today. There was some frustrating things that we normally don't do. But we can control our own destiny."

Kill too was talking about fighting for a spot in the Big Ten title game. Minnesota might have come away with a moral victory in losing to Ohio State by just one touchdown. This is the same Buckeyes team that blasted traditional defensive power Michigan State 49-37 the week before.

But if Minnesota is serious about being great, there is no more room for moral victories. It's time now to play as big as it talks.

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