Nebraska came oh, so close, last year to pulling a shocker in Columbus after looking less than impressive in the lead-up to the Buckeye game. Despite being 3-1, the Huskers appear to have the “less-than-impressive” box checked off again as the +17.5 line would indicate.
Is Ohio St. nervous, overconfident or just taking it one game at a time as they roll into a Lincoln environment which will be hopping with ESPN Gameday in town as well as enough alcohol to supply Cobby with spirits for a decade? For help answering Corn Nation’s burning questions, Matt Tamanini of Land Grant Holy Land was generous enough to provide us with some detailed an honest opinions on that subject as well as Urban Meyer’s future and funny Gameday signs.
Many thanks to Matt - Enjoy!
So Nebraska unexpectedly gave Ohio State a run for its money last year. Unfortunately for Nebraska coaches, players, fans, citizens and pets it appears that Ohio State is much better than they were last year. Would you agree with this assessment?
Yes, but cautiously and with conditions. I think through four games, I can unequivocally say that Ohio State’s defense is better than it was in 2018, and by a considerable amount. Unlike on the offense, you really don’t have to factor for less than great competition through four weeks, because even the less than great competition last year ran all over the OSU defense with chunk play after chunk play. The Buckeye defense is currently second nationally in both yards per game and yards per play, so even if those numbers revert a bit back to the mean as the schedule toughens up beginning this Saturday, they are undoubtedly better than the horror show that they were through much of last season, but that’s not necessarily saying much.
On offense, I think that they are better than last year, but that’s a tough this to say for me at this point coming off of a year in which the unit was led by the most productive passer in OSU and Big Ten history. Justin Fields can’t do what Dwayne Haskins did last year, but Fields has been incredibly poised and consistent and has accounted for 19 touchdowns so far. Granted, six of those have been with his legs, which is certainly a dimension that Haskins didn’t have. I also opens up the running game for J.K. Dobbins and Master Teague III. But, we will see if Fields can process things quickly enough against better defenses to stay close to the electric pace that he’s put up thus far.
If Nebraska were to pull the upset, what would they have to do to make it happen?
I know that I said that I was more confident in the defense earlier, and that is true, but last week, Miami (OH) was able to show a bit of a blueprint n the first eight or so minutes of how to best move the ball against Ohio State. It took advantage of the holes in the zone defense, and put linebackers on athletes that they weren’t able to cover. The defense quickly adjusted and that was the end of the threat, but I am concerned that against better competition, those holes will be more exploitable.
With OSU on offense, I think getting pressure on Fields will be important, as it always is on QBs. The offensive line has been really strong this year against FAU, Cincinnati, Indiana, and Miami (OH), so Fields has only really been pressured consistently when he holds on to the ball for too long. We haven’t seen many opportunities this year for him to step up into the pocket and stare down a blitzer and make a pass.
I think that Fields can do that, but I won’t feel 100 percent certain until we see it.
Is Ryan Day the new Urban Meyer? Or maybe he’s better?
Day has the benefit of having been with the program for the past two years before becoming the head coach, so he’s been able to keep a lot of the structural strengths of the program intact, from invaluable support staff to the strength coach to the “plan to win” and team “pillars.” So, in that respect, he is very much following in Urban Meyer’s footsteps.
However, he has come in and put his stamp on his coaching staff, jettisoning nearly the entire defensive staff (including the best man at Meyer’s wedding), and has a much more level approach to life and football. I think that this will be a major benefit to him in preparing his team, as Urban was great at getting his teams up for big games, but sometimes not as great for the rest of the schedule.
Besides J.K. Dobbins and Justin Fields, who should Husker fans know about on offense?
Sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave is having a great season thus far. He really came on at the end of the 2018 season with great games against Michigan, Northwestern in the B1G Title Game, and Washington in the Rose Bowl. There’s a lot of depth at the wide receiver position this season, so the targets are fairly well distributed, but he has been making some great grabs this year. True freshman WR Garrett Wilson has also been working himself into more playing time lately too.
Does the fact that a Big Ten West team has crushed Buckeye hopes about getting into the playoff the last two seasons make you at all nervous about this game?
As an Ohio State fan, I’m always a little bit nervous that I am seeing the team through Scarlet and Gray colored glasses, but I think the difference between this team and those from the last two years is that their defense is not giving up chunk plays, which destroyed them against Iowa and Purdue. In 2018, the Buckeyes were second worst in the B1G ahead of only Illinois. This season, however, they are smack cabin the middle of the pack, and the vast majority of the ones that they have surrendered have come with the second or third team defense in the game.
That was the glaring issue for the defense the last few years, but I also think that the personality differences between Meyer and Day play into it too. Everyone likes to say that Meyer was a master motivator, but his teams — especially in the last few years — often looked flat against competition that they were “supposed” to beat. Day, who never publicly seems too get too high or too low, might be able to keep his team a bit more emotionally ready for all situations than Meyer did.
What’s the best sign you’ve ever seen at ESPN Gameday? (Mine is NU @ Notre Dame - “You may have Touchdown Jesus but our backup QB is the (Jamaal) Lord!)
Oh, that’s hard. Off the top of my head, I think mine would be from Bedlam a few years ago, and an Oklahoma State fan had a sign that said something like, “Hey, Oklahoma, even your mascot is a bandwagon.”
Where’s Urban coaching next year?
I don’t think that he will be coaching next year, and if he does, I can guarantee it won’t be at Michigan, and likely won’t be at USC. If Brian Kelley gets let go at Notre Dame following the 2020 season, I could see a possibility of him going there. But, I think that he wants to be retired. Now, if he stays wanting to be retired, we will see.
Prediction time: do the Huskers pull the upset or do the Buckeyes start sending Power 5 opponent messages to the BCS committee?
I think the spread is probably pretty good where it is right now. I imagine that Adrian Martinez will find his way to pick up yards in bunches at times, but even as improved as the Huskers’ defense is, I still think that OSU will be able to put up points. So, I’ll probably go 42-21 for the win and the cover.