Game Day: Nebraska vs. Ohio State

Ready to rumble

Ohio State vs. Nebraska is really No. 1 vs. No. 2 — with two star QBs ready to rumble. And all eyes will be on Justin Fields and Adrian Martinez.

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2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Ohio State rush defense

The Husker run game can be viewed through better-than-average statistics — 215 rushing yards per game, 28 runs of at least 10 yards — or like a three-hour movie where some of the scenes soar and others stick out like a sore thumb. The “boom” nature of NU’s run game features Maurice Washington, Dedrick Mills and Adrian Martinez in the open field, making defenders miss. Too many of the non-boomers are busts, and against a run defense like Ohio State, will likely create a problem. The Buckeyes are allowing 1.71 yards per carry this season — that includes sacks — and they haven’t allowed a run over 30 yards. OSU’s front is tough and its linebackers — Malik Harrison, Tuf Borland and Pete Werner — are stingy, tough tacklers. Coach Scott Frost is bound to have some run-game wrinkles, but the Husker sled will struggle to move Saturday night. Anything over 150 yards is a major win.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Ohio State pass defense

Martinez gets a lot of bang for each passing buck, averaging 9.7 yards per attempt and 15.7 yards per completion. He’ll hit some big ones Saturday, too, so long as JD Spielman, Wan’Dale Robinson and Jack Stoll are good to go. Look for Washington to be heavily involved in the pass game — against good teams, Washington tends to get a nice set of plays at receiver — and for Martinez to be loose and aggressive, since NU is a big underdog and the QB is going to have to deal all game for the Huskers to have a chance. OSU’s four-man pass rush — anchored by Chase Young — is fierce. Nebraska’s offensive line needs to give Martinez time. OSU’s defenders will close hard and fast on No. 2 should he bail out of the pocket too often. Corners Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette should lock down the perimeter, but NU does some of its best work in the middle of the field between linebackers and safeties.

Ohio State rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

The Huskers fancy themselves a stout run-stopping outfit, and they’re about to find out if they are. The results from Illinois — 221 yards on 38 carries – weren’t great, even if one of the runs covered 66 yards. Ohio State has every bit the running game Illinois did, and then some. JK Dobbins is in search of his third straight 1,000-yard season, and his shoulders-low, don’t-tackle-his-legs style will be challenging for NU’s linebackers. Quarterback Justin Fields is a good runner, but he’s not likely to carry the load the way JT Barrett did. Of note: Ohio State hasn’t run the ball with its receivers yet in 2019. The jet sweep is in the playbook, and if Nebraska is in man coverage, OSU may bust it out. While Nebraska is the best defense OSU has faced, it is less likely to run the please-have-mercy scheme employed by Miami (Ohio) that kept the Buckeye run game at a modest 227 yards. Ohio State will try to impose its will.

Ohio State pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Fields has been very good to start the season, throwing 13 touchdowns in four games and completing nearly 70% of his passes. Buckeye coach Ryan Day has a very nice passing scheme that limits interceptions and gets the ball out of Fields’ hand quickly or has Fields on the move. Nebraska’s defense, however, had some success last season against Dwayne Haskins. It will find a way to trouble Fields, too, into sacks or perhaps a few turnovers. The key is getting Fields to move to his left and to take away the options underneath that he often finds open and in stride. OSU does a nice job getting its talented receivers in space without stressing the quarterback too much.

Special teams

Nebraska is kind of mess in the kicking game. Placekicker is a major issue — five missed field goals, some ugliness on extra points — and the work on kickoffs has been less than stellar, too. Ohio State has 164 punt return yards, good kick returners and the nation’s best punter in Drue Chrisman. NU is unlikely to win this phase Saturday night. OSU is always good in it.

Intangibles

Nebraska believes it can beat Ohio State. The Huskers aren’t cocky or emotional about it. This game isn’t personal the way Colorado was or Iowa will be, but NU players were on that field in Columbus last season, and they know how they stacked up. Nebraska won’t be afraid and will have a big, noisy crowd in their corner. No pressure, either. That comes later with Wisconsin and Iowa (and perhaps Northwestern). The Huskers have license to play free and fun Saturday, and all the hoopla surrounding the game won’t hurt. Ohio State plays for the national title, more or less, every time it steps on the field. A loss is unacceptable. The Buckeyes have had all of seven since 2014.

Key matchup: Ohio State’s offensive line vs. Nebraska’s defensive line

The Huskers love this matchup, and expect to play it to a stalemate or better. OSU’s offensive line was beyond average last season — as was NU’s defensive line — so both units have improved. OSU’s line gets out on the move for screens and power running plays. NU’s defensive line has to disrupt, read and react accordingly.

Our take

Absolutely, Nebraska can beat Ohio State. Ignore the 17-point spread. NU has the offense to make that spread shrink in a hurry if Martinez and his linemen are on their game. But Nebraska has to play close to its best while Ohio State has to play close to average. OSU probably isn’t as talented as it has been. At the very least, the talent isn’t as seasoned. But the Buckeyes seem to play hard, play fast and play for each other, displaying a kind of selflessness good teams have. If Ohio State is in that frame of mind, Nebraska had better be prepared to win a track meet, and it had better get out fast from the blocks.

Our prediction: OHIO STATE 37, NEBRASKA 28

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Game notes

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