Are there any Buckeye historians out there who could name the starting free safety for John Cooper’s 1989-1990 Buckeye teams? Well, the answer to that question is Nebraska head coach, Bo Pelini, and he will be bringing his 21st ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers to the Horseshoe this Saturday.
There are a couple of similarities between the two teams; both teams are coming off of big conference wins, both teams love to run the ball (and they do it effectively,) both quarterbacks are much improved since last year, and both defenses started off a bit slower than usual.
This game will be under the lights, on national television, and in front of 102,329 fans wearing only scarlet. It should be a dandy.
When Nebraska has the ball:
Taylor Martinez comes into this game much improved compared to years past. Martinez boasts an 11-1 touchdown to interception ratio and he is completing 68% of his passes. He still reminds fans that he is a dual threat quarterback, rushing for 298 yards in four games. As noted on ABC during the Wisconsin game, Martinez’s release is night and day compared to last year. Last year he was shot putting the ball and throwing off of his back foot. After cleaning up his mechanics in the off season, Martinez looks much more like a real FBS quarterback and it has showed in the first four games this season. When breaking down the statistics, it is clear that even though Martinez is completing 68% of his passes, he is only completing 53% (19-36) on third down. An even more alarming statistic is that Martinez is completing a paltry 21% (3-14) of his throws in the fourth quarter. Based off of this, the Buckeyes need to get out to a 10+ point lead going into the fourth and make Martinez beat them with his arm.
Besides Martinez, the ‘Huskers bolster a two-headed monster in the backfield with sophomore Ameer Abdullah and the always reliable Rex Burkhead. Abdullah is more of the speedster as he also returns punts and kick returns, and he is very shifty. He has rushed for 486 yards on 79 carries, averaging out to 6 yards per carry. Burkhead, as Buckeye fans are familiar with, is more of the downhill, classic B1G running back. Burkhead missed two games this year (one was their loss versus UCLA,) and currently has 273 yards on only 29 carries. Both can catch the ball out of the backfield and Martinez checks down to them constantly. Ball security is a huge issue for the Cornhuskers, the have put the ball on the ground 15 times in four games and lead the nation in lost fumbles at 9. Defensive Coordinator Luke Fickell has to be preaching to his defense to strip the ball, as a turnover could change the momentum of the game.
For receivers, Kenny Bell is the player that needs to be watched. Bell has big play ability and he is Martinez’s primary down field target. Quincy Enunwa is more of the possession receiver but he can also catch the defense napping for a big play. The tight end Kyler Reed is Martinez’s third option, but he is not an elite pass catching tight end. Bradley Roby and Travis Howard should have their way with the ‘Huskers good, but not great receiving corps.
Ultimately, as it usually does, the game will come down to the trenches. Will Nebraska’s offensive line be able to open up holes against the great Ohio State defensive line that shut down Le’Veon Bell last weekend? Will they be able to give Taylor Martinez enough time to step up into the pocket and throw? If Simon, Hankins and the rest of the silver bullets can pressure Martinez, look for him to revert to his old ways and throw off of his back foot, resulting in turnovers. After sending Buckeye fans into a cold sweat the first three games, the defense returned to their old ways last week against Sparty and hopefully that will continue this week. As stated, if the Buckeyes can take a lead into the fourth quarter, one should love their chances to close the game out.
When the Buckeyes have the ball:
Last year, the Buckeyes came out of the gate firing on all cylinders. They lead Nebraska 27-6 in the 3rd quarter before a Braxton Miller fumble and it all fell down hill from there. The ‘Huskers completed their biggest comeback in school history, defeating the Buckeyes 34-27. Carlos Hyde had a big game, rushing for 104 yards on 13 carries and he also added two touchdowns.
Hyde will have to shoulder the load again with Jordan Hall out with a slight PCL tear, leaving him doubtful for Saturday night. It has been a rough year medically for the Buckeye backfield, as Meyer has not been able to utilize both of his running backs at full strength all season. It would be great to see some of the wrinkles that Meyer had in mind in the preseason using both a slasher (Hall,) and an in-between the tackles runner (Hyde,) next to Miller.
When looking through offenses that the ‘Huskers defense has played against this season, one could compare UCLA’s to Ohio State’s spread and running tendencies. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was able to rack up a lot of passing yardage by executing quick passes and letting his receivers make plays after the catch. Hundley threw for 305 yards and 4 touchdowns on the day. Nebraska’s tackling was very poor in that game, which led to an abundance of big plays at the Rose Bowl. UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin rushed for 217 yards on 26 carries. Miller and Hyde will be able to run on a Nebraska defense that seemed to have massive trouble with the zone read that Miller runs extremely well. Their tackling on the perimeter is very poor and UCLA got virtually anything they wanted when rushing to the outside. Nebraska also ran a lot of man to man coverage and UCLA exploited this by motioning in and out of the backfield on the majority of their plays. The Bruin’s motioning left the Nebraska defense vulnerable, as they were constantly running around and could not get set before the snap.
Meyer has to be salivating when watching the UCLA film and has to be expecting a big day in the option game. Also, look for Philly Brown to make plays after the catch and expect him to be motioning in and out of the backfield in the first quarter to see if Bo Pelini has adjusted since the UCLA game. It will also be important to get into 3rd and short situations, as the ‘Huskers defense has been pretty good at getting off of the field on 3rd down. They have limited opponents to a 35% conversion rate on 3rd down.
Ohio State takes advantage of a sloppy tackling secondary and they put points on the board early. Miller and Hyde both rush for over 100 yards as the crowd is in it from kickoff. The improving Buckeye defense forces a few turnovers and makes Taylor Martinez beat them. He is not successful.
Ohio State 31 Nebraska 20