MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Ohio State had squandered leads of 17 and 18 points in losing its last two Big Ten games. The Buckeyes weren”t thinking about doing it again.
They were more concerned about climbing back in the conference race.
“It never popped in our head,” said Steve Bellisari, who had one of the best games of his career completing 17 of 22 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 31-28 win over Minnesota Saturday night. He rushed for 66 yards and wasn”t sacked.
Since first-place Michigan lost on the last play of the game to rival Michigan State earlier in the day, Ohio State (5-3, 3-2) moved a game back of the Wolverines and Illinois in a three-way tie for third place.
“I think our guys were aware,” said Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel. “Enough guys whispered to them what happened this afternoon.”
Jonathan Wells ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns for the Buckeyes. He scored from one yard out with 3:01 remaining in the third quarter to put Ohio State up 21-20 probably the biggest play of the game.
“For us to answer like that away from home was tremendous,” Tressel said.
Added Bellisari: “I didn”t even have to say anything. Everyone was looking at me. We were like, “We know we”ve got to go.””
Chris Vance who had his first career 100-yard receiving game had a 36-yard touchdown pass from Bellisari tipped into his hands by Minnesota”s Ukee Dozier, widening the Buckeyes” lead to 28-20 early in the fourth quarter.
Tellis Redmon rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown for the Golden Gophers, who haven”t beaten the Buckeyes at home since 1981.
The Gophers (1-3, 3-5) dropped to last place in the Big Ten and must win their last three games at Michigan, at Iowa and Wisconsin at home to earn their third straight bowl bid. Minnesota coach Glen Mason, who lost out to Tressel last spring for the Ohio State job, missed a chance to beat his alma mater for the second straight season.
“They made the big plays tonight and we didn”t,” Mason said. “We didn”t tackle well against a big, strong physical team with excellent running backs.”
Asad Abdul-Khaliq, putting an apparent end to Minnesota”s quarterback rotation by starting his fourth straight game, rushed eight times for 47 yards and a touchdown. He completed 11 of 21 passes for 120 yards.