As the Ohio State Buckeyes prepare to take on the Nebraska Corn Huskers, it is hard to put aside the horror of last year’s 27-6 blown lead. Like last year, quarterback Braxton Miller has carried way more than his fair share of the weight for this team. Miller has taken a pounding this year the horror that the next hit may be his last (at least for a game or so) is alive and well among the Buckeye faithful.
The good news is unlike last year’s meltdown, the Buckeyes are better prepared for any such tragedy if it comes. They have a stronger backup in Kenny Guiton and the evidence so far this year suggests that they are a much tougher team mentally. Miller is also tough and for the moment, I’m going to put aside such fears and move forward as all good Buckeye fans should
A different look
Michigan State was pretty much a one-dimensional or even a one player team. When the Buckeyes shut down the Spartan running game, MSU didn’t have much of an answer. Nebraska, however, brings a much more balanced attack and although they’ve had their hiccups (see UCLA), the Huskers provide a second step in the trilogy needed to claim bragging rights in the Big Ten this season.
We’ll also see both mobility and passing skills in quarterback Taylor Martinez that we haven’t seen yet this season.
Nebraska Offense vs. Buckeye D
Against Michigan State, the Buckeye defense really only needed to worry about one person. Against Nebraska, they’ve got at least three to test Ohio State’s ability to stop the rush. Along with Martinez’s and Ameer Abdulla’s 6 yards per carry, Rex Burkhead is averaging nearly 10 yards every time he touches the ball (team avg. 6 yds/carry). While it might make us feel better to note that Le’Veon Bell was averaging 5.2 yards/carry, 152 per game before meeting the Buckeyes, Martinez ability to run the option will make this a much different offense than MSU.
The good news in those numbers is that Nebraska has coughed up the ball 14 times so far this season with nine of those fumbles resulting in turnovers. Failed attempts to strip the ball cost the Buckeyes big last weekend. Hopefully they have learned to put their helmet on the ball as they wrap the tackle as opposed to running next to the ball carrier flailing at the ball as he scores a touchdown.
Through the air, Martinez is just as impressive sporting a 68 percent passing rate throwing for 11 touchdowns and only 1 interception. Although the Spartans performed much better through the air than expected last week, Nebraska has no problems if forced to pass. The Buckeyes ability to get a strong push and find themselves in the backfield will be a deciding factor in this game. Likewise, although the secondary has improved, maintaining coverage and preventing big plays will be huge.
Ohio State offense vs. Nebraska D
Although Braxton Miller is still the workhorse of the Ohio State offense, it was good to see both Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde helping with the ground duties. What I like about the Hyde/Hall combo is that Hall gives us the open field outside game while Hyde can smash it right up the middle in the way teams like Nebraska and Ohio State should move the ball.
Unfortunately, no Hall.
While it would be nice to see Hall with the ball, I think Hyde is a more appropriate fit against Nebraska. Miller can take the scrambling, quick runs and when needed, Hyde’s ability to go uphill will be of value.
The biggest thing will be the Buckeye offensive line. The good news is that they have continued to improve every game this season and are starting to jell as a group. The bad news is that Nebraska leads the B1G in tackles for a loss and has held opponents to a third down conversion rate of around 1-3. They also held Wisconsin to only 90 yards rushing and a pathetic 12 yards in the second half.
Miller can pass the ball and has shown development in decision-making ability and determining when to tuck and run. Given the time he can make big things happen. Time will be the key. If the offensive line can protect Miller, open holes for Hyde and let the Buckeye offense go to work we will be celebrating in Columbus Sat. night.
The Horror Factor
Don’t think for a minute that the Buckeyes have forgotten last year. Most of these guys were on the field that day and felt the pain of letting one of the biggest comebacks in the history of Ohio State happen to them. Add in a prime-time game at home and you know that they’ve been using this game for motivation all season. A worst case loosing Miller scenario might even fire the Buckeyes up more as the desire to right last year’s wrongs overtake them.
Buckeyes are 3.5 point underdogs but this alone is worth at least one touchdown. Expect the Buckeyes to remain undefeated come Sunday morning.