1. Ohio State, Michigan games play out in similar fashion
Upon first glance of the Gophers' 2023 schedule, two games stood out as huge challenges — the home game against Michigan and the road contest at Ohio State, a pair of teams that reached the College Football Playoff semifinals last year. Both games played out to form, with the Wolverines winning 52-10 on Oct. 7 and the Buckeyes rolling 37-3 on Saturday. The Gophers (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) hung around for a half in both games, trailing Michigan 24-10 at the break and Ohio State 13-0 at halftime. In the second half of those games, Minnesota was outscored by a combined 52-3, showing the enormous gap between the programs.
2. Kaliakmanis takes his lumps
Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis had a rough day, completing 11 of 19 passes for 89 yards with an interception and a lost fumble. Saturday was his third start against the Big Ten East Division trio of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, and he is 25-for-56 for 316 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions in those games.
3. TreVeyon Henderson set the tone
Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson proved to be way too much for the Gophers to handle. The junior rushed 15 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 26 yards. He was at his best during the Buckeyes' first possession of each half. In the first drive of the first half, he rushed four times for 35 yards and a TD and caught a 13-yard pass. In the third quarter, he took the ball on first down and raced 75 yards for a touchdown and a 20-0 lead. During those two possessions, Henderson averaged 20.5 yards per touch.
4. Mark Crawford had a solid day
Blowout losses offer few highlights for the losing team, and that was the case with the Gophers. One bright spot was the performance of punter Mark Crawford. The Perth, Australia, native was called upon to punt seven times, and five of his kicks pinned Ohio State inside its 20-yard line. Two of those backed up the Buckeyes to their 3, and they didn't score on either of those possessions. Crawford averaged 40.6 yards per punt, and he had a long kick of 54 yards.
5. A finale for the Axe
The Gophers close their regular season against Wisconsin at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. At stake is Paul Bunyan's Axe, and Minnesota will try to keep the trophy for a third consecutive year after a 23-13 home win in 2021 and a 23-16 road triumph in 2022. The last time the Gophers won three in a row in the Axe series was from 1984 through '87 when they won it four consecutive times. Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4) beat Nebraska 24-17 in overtime Saturday night to secure bowl eligibility.