We have not done many question & answer segments this season, but I was in the mood to know more about what the Ohio State Buckeyes are going to bring to the game vs. the Nebraska Cornhuskers Saturday night.
So, we reached out to our SBNation site Land-Grant Holy Land to find out more. Author E.L. Speyer was gracious with his time to answer five questions I had about the game Saturday night, and the Buckeyes in General.
1. This seems like a statement game for Nebraska, but what’s the feeling around the Buckeyes camp for this game? Is it a true worry that the Huskers could steal one in Columbus?
I think this is a tipping-point kind of game for Ohio State. Obviously, the Buckeyes need to win out to maintain their goals of a conference championship and playoff spot. But even if Ohio State is to win, the offense needs to start clicking now if its ever going to get off the ground against a quality opponent. Whatever Vegas sees in the Buckeyes, opening the line at Ohio State +16.5, it’s not a vision shared with Ohio State fans. There is real concern that Ohio State loses this game with the way they’ve looked recently, and really throughout Big Ten play.
2. The Ohio State offense is a pretty potent machine, but hasn’t really torn up things in the last few games. We’ve heard playcalling and the passing offense having issues, but what could be other causes?
I’m not sure if I would qualify the offense as a potent machine at this point. Sure, Ohio State lit up non-conference play against the likes of Bowling Green and Tulsa, but the Buckeyes were expected to do that. Ohio State did hang 45 on Oklahoma, but does anyone play defense in the Big 12? That league feels more like arena football than a power five conference.
Playcalling is absolutely an issue, and has been for the better part of the last two years. The Buckeyes are far too predictable in their game plan, especially in high-leverage situations. If you’re watching the game with someone unfamiliar with Ohio State’s style of play, make a bet that the Buckeyes will run the QB every time they line up with an empty set on third-and-short. You’ll win more than you’ll lose, probably by a wide margin.
With that said, Ohio State’s personnel and execution have absolutely limited the coaching staff. Both of the offensive tackles are first-year starters, and the left guard is a true freshman. Pass protection has been dicey, and was absolutely terrible against Penn State.
3. This Buckeye defense is no joke, with all four phases (rushing, passing, total & scoring) in the top 25 of the FBS. Is there a weakness that is creeping up at all? Or is this just that solid of a crew?
It’s not hyperbole to say that Ohio State has three first round picks in its secondary in corners Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore, and safety Malik Hooker. If Nebraska is to move the ball through the air, they’ll do it by following the blueprint that Northwestern left behind: attack Ohio State’s other defensive backs.
The Buckeyes play plenty of press man coverage, and there are few receivers that can consistently beat Conley and Lattimore one-on-one. But the Buckeyes’ have been exposed recently over the middle, especially when teams single-out Nickelback Damon Arnette and safety Damon Webb, who seems to be especially slow in reacting to crossing routes. Northwestern’s Austin Carr caught eight passes for 158 yards last week, as the Wildcats constantly exposed Arnette and Webb.
4. Give us one thing in any part of the game that will tell us early how this game will go, if you can.
Ohio State’s aggression in the first quarter will define this game. If the Buckeyes come out with the swagger and aggressive play calling they showed against Oklahoma, then I like their chances. Ideally, Meyer will call the game in reverse, designing easy passing plays that allow Barrett and his receivers to get into rhythm, while keeping Nebraska’s safeties honest. Then, Ohio State should be able to proceed with its power-run that has defined Meyer’s offenses in Columbus.
If Meyer and the staff ask the offense to play in a box with a conservative game plan then this is going to be a close one for four quarters. And as we saw in the Penn State game, that leaves little margin of error for Ohio State.
5. Finally, how do you see the game evolving, and what’s your final score?
As I said earlier, I think this is a tipping-point kind of game for Ohio State, and I see this game going one of two ways.
On one hand, I have confidence that Urban Meyer can turn this ship around, and finally show us the offense we saw during the Buckeyes’ championship run in 2014. The Buckeyes feed off a raucous home crowd enjoying its first and only night game of the season, and the home team prevails by a few touchdowns. That’s what my heart tells me, at least.
My head and eyes, on the other hand, see this differently. Ohio State’s problems on offense can likely be attributed to a few bad hires on the offensive staff, issues that won’t be fixed until after this season. Northwestern statistically owns the worst pass defense in the conference, yet J.T. Barrett still had trouble pushing the ball downfield for chunk plays. Why should it be any different this weekend against a much better secondary?
Ultimately I see Ohio State riding its defense, home crowd and overall talent advantage to a narrow, one-score victory. The win will move the Buckeyes to 8-1 on the season, but it won’t make fans feel any better about Ohio State’s prospects as we move closer to the Michigan game in late November.