Breaking down the key matchups for Ohio State
Nebraska rush offense vs. Ohio State rush defense
The Huskers’ run game is back! The threat of quarterback Adrian Martinez as a runner, coupled with a nice 1-2 running back punch from Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington, fits beautifully into Scott Frost’s scheme that creates opportunities for big plays. Nebraska has topped 225 yards in each of the last three games, and Ozigbo has cleared the 100-yard threshold, too. Ozigbo is running like no Husker back has since Ameer Abdullah. Ohio State’s run defense gave up 178 rushing yards to Minnesota and 161 to Purdue. Neither of those teams has the same kind of rushing threat at quarterback that Martinez represents, and even with a bye week, the Buckeyes may struggle to hold NU under 150 yards. OSU linebackers Mailk Harrison and Tuf Borland are good players.
Nebraska pass offense vs. Ohio State pass defense
Two years ago when Nebraska visited Columbus, the Buckeyes’ secondary sported four first-round NFL draft picks. All those guys are in the NFL, and their replacements, while good, aren’t quite as elite. So OSU’s defense has given up a league-high 16 plays of 30 yards or more. NU has the scheme, quarterback and receivers — Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman — to keep OSU’s secondary struggling. The wrench in that plan could be the Buckeyes’ pass rush. Although OSU lost Nick Bosa for the season to an injury, defensive linemen Dre’Mont Jones (5.5 sacks) and Chase Young (4.5 sacks) are among the Big Ten’s best pass rushers. Nebraska’s offense is also similar enough to Ohio State’s that the Buckeyes should have a good defensive plan.
Ohio State rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense
Along with its pass defense issues, Ohio State’s run game has been another sore matter. Despite having two of the Big Ten’s best backs — J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber — OSU has averaged 3.1 yards per carry in its last four games. Dwayne Haskins, one of the nation’s best passers, is not a running quarterback, which is a big shift from J.T. Barrett. Ohio State hasn’t seemed to adjust yet. Nebraska’s run defense has decent numbers on the surface because its style deters the opponents’ run game, but NU is still giving up 4.46 yards per carry. If Ohio State actually commits to the run, look for more than 150 yards.
Ohio State pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense
Nebraska is in for a long day. Haskins is an NFL quarterback in the making, and he enjoys excellent receivers in K.J. Hill, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon and Austin Mack. All of them have at least 20 catches, are excellent in space and should have decent days against Nebraska’s depth-and-talent-challenged secondary. Haskins is completing 71.1 percent of his passes and remains a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Nebraska’s coaches are impressed with him and they should be.
Nebraska had a wonderful day on special teams against Bethune-Cookman — Spielman even returned a punt for a touchdown — but don’t expect that to carry over to Saturday. OSU has arguably the nation’s best punter in Drue Chrisman, a senior kicker in Sean Nuernberger, excellent coverage units and capable returners. Nebraska has improved on special teams, but it’s not better than Ohio State.
Nebraska was supposed to have a bye week to heal and prepare for Ohio State, but instead it played BCU after thunderstorms canceled the season opener. The Buckeyes will be healed up, prepared and angry coming off of a 49-20 loss to Purdue. OSU also gets to play at home. It’s a tall order for Nebraska.
Key matchup: Nebraska’s run game vs. Ohio State’s front seven
The Huskers will have some success passing the ball. Count on that. Likewise, OSU’s offense will move up and down the field on NU’s pass defense. The Huskers need a solid run game to relieve pressure on Martinez and to keep OSU’s strong pass rush from teeing off. If Nebraska runs the ball, Nebraska can win.