It is not often that you can find a series between two Power Five teams where one team might not be satisfied with a 89-percent win percentage but that might be the case between Ohio State and Nebraska when the 2011 game got away from Ohio State, a quarterback injury and a bad outing saw an overwhelming Buckeyes football lead disappear and give the Huskers their only win in nine tries against Ohio State.
It also hurts because that was the first game between the two powerhouses in Big Ten play and you never forget your first. The 34 points scored is a high-water mark for the Huskers and since then it has been nothing short of futility, the Buckeyes have scored at least 48 points in five of the next six games and the average margin of victory has been 30.3 points, and that is with a five-point win in 2018 factored in.
You can’t help but think that people around Nebraska saw a much better path to conference crowns in the Big Ten when it left the Big 12 and the power sphere known as Texas when it came to all things Big 12. That has not been the case as the title drought has been complete as the Huskers have only won a divisional crown once and have never secured a conference crown. In fact, the Huskers are running a streak of four straight years of finishing 5th (outright or tied) in the B1G West, hardly the thing that people expected when hometown hero Scott Frost came calling (one of those seasons is credited to Mike RIley however).
This season has seen the Huskers lose six games by one possession (eight points or less) and at a record of 3-6, 1-5. The good news is that the Huskers may not lose this one by one possession. That doesn’t mean we are calling for a Nebraska win, if history is any indication, this game could be a rout.
Let’s go to the Tale of the Tape and take a deeper look at this one.
|Pass Eff. Defense
Ohio State Defensive Backs vs. Nebraska QB/WR/TE
Last week’s game against Penn State did not look good if you just look at the yardage numbers of Sean Clifford throwing for 361 yards but the Buckeyes did hold Penn State to just one passing touchdown. What might be more troubling is the fact that Ohio State couldn’t get Penn State off the field on 3rd down, giving up a first on 11 of 18 tries. Seven of those conversions were via the pass and the average yardage to go was north of 5.7 yards per try. Now, this is not something that you can just put on this player or that player but the Buckeyes did see a team come into the game very one-dimensional and execute better than expected on that one-dimension. It has been awhile since Nebraska has had a big passing game against Ohio State, you have to go back to 2017 for the last time that Nebraska had a 300-yard passer against the Buckeyes with the last three years seeing numbers of 160, 47 and 266 with Adrian Martinez being the primary passer in all three of those games. Over those three games the Huskers have had a combined one passing touchdown against three interceptions, so the Buckeyes have done a good job over the past handful of games of limiting what Nebraska is capable of doing in the throw game but you also have to remember that the Huskers have only broken 30 points in two of the seven games since joining the Big Ten so points have been hard to come by in most games.
Here we are again with Adrian Martinez taking on the Buckeyes. In three previous games against Ohio State he has thrown for 418 yards with one touchdown and three picks and is 42-65 (64.6-pct.). The 2019 game is the most forgettable of the bunch where he threw for just 47 yards and threw the three interceptions in short order but even if you take that game out of the equation, it has not exactly been enough to keep the Huskers competitive against Ohio State. Nebraska has seven players with 10 or more catches and three players have 20-plus catches as nobody has eclipsed the 30-catch mark. Samori Toure leads the Huskers in all three categories with 29 catches, 568 yards and three scores. The Montana transfer has been held in check over the past several games with eight catches over the past four games and just one touchdown with most of his damage occurring earlier in the season. Austin Allen and Omar Manning make up the remainder of the 20-catch-club for the Huskers and combine for 676 yards of offense and four scores. Over the course of the season, the Huskers have 12 receiving scores, less than half of what Ohio State has with 25 and Nebraska has played one more game than Ohio State has to date. The Buckeyes will not be the best past defense that the Huskers have faced this season with Ohio State coming at No. 93 in yards allowed and No. 37 in pass efficiency defense but Ohio State’s scoring defense will be in the upper cut around the likes of Purdue, Michigan and Minnesota. One thing about Nebraska this year is there have not been a lot of interceptions, well, until Purdue when the Huskers threw four of them. Prior to that it was just three for the entire season, so the chances will be there but the Buckeyes will have to make plays as Martinez had been pretty careful with the ball up until the last game. Edge: Ohio State
Ohio State Linebackers vs. Nebraska Running Backs
We know that the Buckeyes will be without Steele Chambers for the first half of this game as he sits out the second part of his targeting call that was levied in the Penn State game. So the Buckeyes will take a thin unit and be even more shorthanded. This could be a big opportunity for Palaie Gaoteote to see more early playing time as the Buckeyes don’t have a lot of bodies to roll out there even under the best of circumstances. It is still far from a finished work with this unit as there are good moments and some not so good moments and while every team across the nation can claim that, it has been a bit of a riddle for Ohio State when you can see the highs and the lows in the same series. Penn State ran for 33 yards on 29 carries last weekend and while that is off the charts when you are focused on a “run defense” section, everyone knew that Penn State could not run the ball and this week will be a little different as Nebraska is capable of running the ball and the degree of difficulty goes up with a very mobile quarterback in Martinez that will test the discipline of the defense. Over the previous three games, the Huskers have rushed for six scores against the Buckeyes (combined) and close to 200 yards per game, this contest may see a heavy push of the Nebraska run as well, not only because it may be the better part of the attack but also to keep the Ohio State offense off the field in an attempt to control the clock because the Huskers are not going to be able to win any sort of a shoot-out in this one.
Nobody has more rushing attempts, yards or scores than Adrian Martinez on the Husker offense with 105 credited rushes for 451 yards (sack adjusted) and 11 scores. Martinez can make the long run with a 75-yard run already this season and it is not uncommon to see Martinez on top of the stat sheet as the team’s leading rusher. In the previous three games with the Buckeyes the Nebraska QB has run for 238 yards and three scores on 48 carries, so that means Ohio State has to be prepared to see some sort of quarterback run at least 15 times, if not more on Saturday afternoon. Rahmir Johnson has emerged as the main running back threat on the team and has 96 carries for 433 yards and four scores, an averaged rush of 4.5 YPC and while he does not have a run over 30-yards this season, teams cannot take bad angles on him as he is a more than capable back for Scott Frost’s team. From the category of stats not telling the whole story, 13 of Nebraska’s 24 rushing touchdowns took place in just two games, a seven touchdown outing against Northwestern and a six touchdown show against Fordham. It should come as no shock that Northwestern is No. 126 out of 130 teams in run defense while Fordham is No. 108 in FCS ball, so the Huskers got really healthy against two poor run defenses. With that being said, no team has kept the Huskers out of the end zone on the ground this season but over the past three games, Nebraska only has four rushing touchdowns and have averaged just around 135 yards per game on the ground, again another sign of going against better run defenses down the stretch. Over the seven game B1G series between these two teams, the Huskers are averaging 166 YPG on the ground and 1.7 TDs rushing the ball, but the 2018 and 2012 games were responsible for most of the scoring with seven of the 12 in those two games. If Ohio State can take the run away from Nebraska and force the Huskers to try and win this game in the air, it will be a deflating day for the fans in Memorial Stadium holding on to their red balloons. Edge: Ohio State
Ohio State Defensive Line vs. Nebraska Offensive Line
Ohio State’s pressure is starting to pick up with 29 sacks and 48 TFLs on the season and the Penn State game saw four sacks and eight TFLs in the 33-24 win over the Nittany Lions. Are the Buckeyes finally starting to get healthy and find the right mixture of pressures? As we said earlier, this is a game with a mobile quarterback and the Buckeyes are going to have to play smart football because no matter what you think about Martinez as a thrower, you cannot deny that he has a knack for making a move and going off to the races as a runner. Ohio State has sacked Nebraska QBs eight times over the past three games which sounds good on the surface but with how one-sided the series is, you would think that number would be higher. This is not the game to go out and play hero ball, just don’t lose the edge, keep Martinez in some sort of pocket and make him beat you throwing the ball instead of having to chase him 20 yards down field.
The Huskers have allowed 22 sacks on the season and while that is not horrible when you divide that out by nine games, it does show that Martinez can be reached, but some of that too is a result of Martinez extending plays to try and make something happen. According to the two-deep, everyone on the line has some experience with even the younger linemen going into their ninth start with the team, at least and a player like center Cam Jurgens with 28 starts under his belt already. starting left tackle Turner Cororan is a name that Ohio State recruiting fans will remember as a player out of the state of Kansas that the Buckeyes heavily pursued until the lineman committed to Nebraska abruptly. One thing of note, even with the experience of playing, there are no listed seniors on the two-deep on the line and with two freshmen (one-RS), two sophomores and a junior, this might be the line fans see next year and for several, years beyond as the Huskers look to find some sort of winning formula. Edge: Ohio State
|Pass Eff. Defense
Ohio State QB/WR/TE vs. Nebraska Defensive Backs
Saturday night was not one of CJ Stroud’s best but it also was the first time that he faced a top-40 pass defense since the Minnesota game, Stroud’s first collegiate start. Now, have far has the bar moved from maybe 10 years ago? Are we really being critical of a 305-yard night and a 64.7-percent completion rate? Apparently we are. He just did not look sharp at points, some of the “too much juice” energy indicators were there as well early in the game but if you go back and look at the tape, it was not a great game for the offensive line as defensive coordinator Brent Pry did a marvelous job of changing things up and confusing the Buckeyes on the line and not really allowing Ohio State to sustain success and run tempo with that success. Chris Olave was not able to get on the same page with Stroud on Saturday either with nine targets and only three grabs but none were bigger than the 38-yard touchdown, Ohio State’s first chance to take the lead and look like the favored team in that game. Garrett Wilson has two career touchdowns against Nebraska, Jaxon Smith-Njigba has one and would you believe that Olave has zero over two games against the Huskers? Ohio State averages 224.6 yards passing per game against Nebraska in the seven-game series as Big Ten foes but you also have to account for 109 passing yards in 2011 and 127 passing yards in 2012. After those games, the Buckeyes are averaging 289 yards per game in the air and and have scored 16 passing touchdowns over those five games. The Buckeyes also do a great job of limiting risk with just one interception over those five games and that lone INT happened in the 2018 games off the hand of Dwayne Haskins.
Nebraska is No. 46 in passing yards allowed on defense and No. 43 in pass efficiency defense, which means the Huskers are a little bit better than mid-pack when it comes to both of those stats. Safety Deontai Williams has four picks on the year while four others Huskers each have one. Let’s not forget, it is not a case of Nebraska giving up 40-50-more points a game this season, the scoring defense has been solid at just 20.3 points per game, it has been a case of the offense being inconsistent and the Huskers losing six games by one score (eight or fewer) or less thus far. But, as we have said in previous editions of Tape, are the Huskers ready for a team that can both pass and run? Ohio State’s No. 6 pass offense is better than anything that the Huskers have seen so far this year (Purdue was No. 16 and had a decent day throwing the ball, 34-45 233 yards and 2 scores) but Purdue cannot run the ball as the No. 128 rush offense, whereas the Buckeyes are No. 30 running the ball. The point is, Nebraska just can’t load up for one or the other, the closest thing that the Huskers have seen to a dual-threat offense was Oklahoma and that was pre-Caleb Williams Oklahoma, and it seems highly unlikely that Ohio State is going to have that pedestrian of a day. To this point of the season the Huskers have not given up 300 passing yards to any team with Northwestern leading the way at 256 yards but the past two opponents (Minnesota/Purdue) have thrown for five combined touchdowns on this defense, the significance being that in the previous seven combined games opponents threw for just six. With all of that being said, Cam Taylor-Britt is the best player on this defense in my book at corner, keep an eye on him at all times. The battles he will have with Olave and Wilson will be worth the price of admission. Edge: Ohio State
Ohio State Running Backs vs. Nebraska Linebackers
Ohio State ran for what had to feel like a quiet 161 yards against Penn State and 68 of those came on a long TreVeyon Henderson run that was stopped just short of paydirt, even though Henderson was able to knock it across the goal line shortly after that. Ohio State is glad that it won’t have to face a run defense like that until maybe a potential Big Ten Championship Game appearance and a lot has to happen (four wins) before we can start talking about that scenario and we are not even sure who might represent the B1G West at this point. And yes, I have seen Michigan’s numbers against the run, but not convinced that will translate well at the end of the month. With Master Teague still listed as day-to-day, it is obvious that the running back room is pretty thin with Henderson, Miyan Williams and Evan Pryor the known quantities. The Buckeyes are only playing Penn State once this season so there is not a “well, next time we will do this” and Penn State had a plan. You know that Nebraska watched what Penn State did but can Nebraska replicate that? My short answer is going to be no. Henderson had 28 carries in that game, it is a good thing there is a lot of tread left on those tires as people were clamoring to see more Henderson and more run late in games. You are going to get your wish over the next four games for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has thrown well in this series against the Huskers but it has made a living running the ball with an average of 278.6 yards per game and a staggering 3.8 touchdowns per game. Nebraska has held Ohio State to two rushing touchdowns just twice in the series, the 2016 game, a game that Ohio State won 62-3 and it could have been worse, and then of course that 2011 game that nobody wants to speak about. Ohio State has averaged 45.6 rushing attempts per game over the seven games and as recently as the 2019 game rushed a series high 53 attempts in a game that JK Dobbins went for 177 yards. Just one other fun fact in this series, the 2016 game saw a young back named Demario McCall lead all rushers with 73 yards on 16 carries. Now McCall is still on the team, on the other side of the ball and if things go well, the hope is that he will get a chance to play in this game as well as a rotational defensive back.
Is this the team that held Michigan State to 71 yards on 30 carries and no touchdowns or the one that gave up 204 yards on 42 carries and three scores to Michigan? Have teams really pushed this Nebraska team when it comes to defending the run? The Huskers have faced a good mixture of great running teams and some bad ones along the way. Michigan comes in at No. 7, Minnesota is No. 15 (though can the Gophers keep a back healthy?) and even Buffalo comes in at No. 24. Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer are leading tacklers on this team at linebacker but Big Ten fans are well aware of nickel JoJo Dormann as one of the few seniors on this team and what he does in run support will be pivotal for this team. Getting back to the note on Michigan State, Kenneth Walker had just 61 yards on 19 carries and was kept out of the end zone. We are still not sure what happened there other than the fact that Michigan State did not know it was 2021 Michigan State at that point and thought maybe it was one of those two-win editions in years past. Edge: Ohio State
Ohio State Offensive Line vs. Nebraska Defensive Line
Should the Ohio State offensive line take the tape from last week, dig a hole and bury it or watch it on loop to make sure that it never happens again? For one of the strongest units for the Buckeyes, Saturday night was a challenge with missed protections and blocks, snap infractions and other procedural penalties and just an overall mess of things. This was not something that was just isolated to just one player but the tackles seemed to perform better than the interior line. Whatever it was, the glare off all the scarlet in the stadium, a full moon, whatever, it has to be fixed this week and the bets are that it will be. We will not belabor the point, it was just a bad night and maybe one of the most surprising aspects of the entire game.
There is a mixture of familiar names like Ben Stille and Damion Daniels on this line along with some new names like Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor. It is a solid front but it hasn’t exactly wrecked opposing offenses with 15 sacks over nine games and 54 tackles for loss. Nelson has 9.5 of those TFLs and three sacks while Tannor has four TFLs of his own. One thing is for certain, even without some of the familiar names in the back end, this might be Frost’s best overall defensive unit, at least in terms of effort, since arriving in Lincoln. And it is a young(ish) defense so he has to make sure that the decision makers know that things are turning around on that side of the ball and maybe a fresh start on offense next season might be the magic pill that this team needs as 2021 has shown that the team can play some defense, but the offense has been the challenge this year for one reason or another. Edge: Ohio State
For the run of the season there have not been a lot of Special Teams notes on either team. Just looking at the numbers for the Cornhuskers, it does not appear that special teams have been all that special with three of the national categories all ranking in the bottom-30 along with dismal kicking numbers. This is not a case of Nebraska missing a lot of long field goals, the Huskers are 5-9 from inside of 40 while Connor Culp is 1-4 in in the 30-39-yard range and is actually more accurate from outside of 50 than inside of 40. As for the Buckeyes, we may not see a great punt return all season but has it really mattered? Penn State did not want to give Emeka Egbuka a chance last week, opting to kick deep all night long. Noah Ruggles continues to remain perfect this season. Edge: Ohio State