COLUMBUS – It is the comeback that is still talked about almost 30 years later.
Ohio State watched Minnesota take a 31-0 lead late in the first half in a game in 1989 in the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis but the Buckeyes came all the way back to win 41-37.
It was a great comeback. But to need to come back from that far behind, a team has to play some pretty bad football. And Ohio State did that for the first quarter and most of the second quarter.
OSU scored late in the first half and made a two-point conversion to at least get on the scoreboard, down 31-8, at halftime.
It chipped away at the lead but was still behind 31-18 at the end of the third quarter.
Minnesota was up by 11 points, 37-26, with five minutes left in the game. Quarterback Greg Frey sneaked one yard for a touchdown and Ohio State got another two-point conversion to cut the lead to 37-34.
After forcing Minnesota to punt, OSU started its game-winning drive on its own 27-yard line with two minutes to play.
Frey hit future NFL receiver Jeff Graham with an 18-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds left in the game for the winning touchdown.
Ohio State finished the 1989 season with an 8-4 record and Minnesota was 6-5. The Buckeyes finished fourth in the Big Ten and Minnesota was fifth, so there were no cosmic or national championship consequences linked to the victory.
But because it is the biggest comeback in Ohio State football history the memory lives on and will still be talked about years from now.
When Minnesota (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) plays at No. 3 Ohio State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) today it is unlikely anything as historic as a 31-point comeback will happen.
Ohio State is not falling 31 points behind a team that has allowed an average of 45 points a game in its two Big Ten games. And it is also hard to imagine a Minnesota offense that starts seven freshmen, including its quarterback, scoring 31 points against OSU, even with its shaky secondary and some key defensive starters battling injuries.
There might be a time in the future when Minnesota and Ohio State is the game of the week in the Big Ten. But that time is not now.
The Gophers’ coach, P.J. Fleck, is playing the underdog card every chance he gets. He says he showed his team a tape of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team upsetting the Russians and that he had some other big upsets he wanted to show them to illustrate that anything is possible.
Those possibilities might seem a little more realistic if Minnesota hadn’t already lost its leading rusher of the last two seasons, Rodney Smith, and its best defender, Antoine Winfield Jr., to season-ending injuries.
Ohio State, of course, is without its best defensive player, Nick Bosa, and has some other issues. Its record after six games is perfect but the way it got to 6-0 is a little less than perfect.
The Buckeyes’ defense has given up too many big plays. And while the brilliance of quarterback Dwayne Haskins and his receivers has carried the offense, the running game has been a bit of a disappointment.
OSU rushed for 119 yards at Penn State and for 154 yards against Indiana in its last two games.
If the Buckeyes can run the ball effectively early against Minnesota it might be a signal that they will roll up a big score.
Minnesota allowed 315 rushing yards in a 42-13 loss to Maryland. But that same defense held Iowa to 106 rushing yards in a 48-31 loss, in which the Gophers were more competitive than they’d been against the Terrapins.
If they are competitive with Ohio State today it will probably only be for a little while.
The prediction: Ohio State 48, Minnesota 17
Jim Naveau covers the Ohio State Buckeyes football program for AIM Media Midwest affiliate The Lima News.