Before looking forward to this weekend’s game against the Cornhuskers, let’s look back a moment to last week’s game.
After so many close calls last year in which the Buckeyes came out on the losing end, it was nice to see the good guys get the victory after a hard fought contest versus a quality opponent on the road.
Perhaps even more encouraging than the final score was that for the first time all season, I came away from the game feeling like the Buckeyes made solid progress and got better.
Over the first four games of the season, it was difficult to point to one area that the Buckeyes were encouragingly successful in.
That lack of polish in all phases of the game obviously did not bode well for some of the bigger challenges on the schedule.
That changed against MSU.
The Buckeyes focused on stopping the run on defense (their biggest challenge in the game) and they achieved that goal with great success (MSU had 34 yards rushing on 22 attempts).
They were also relatively successful at everything else outside of turnover margin and moved the ball against one of the best defenses they will face all season.
Maybe it was the hostile environment. Maybe it was the Big Ten opponent. Whatever it was, hopefully something clicked for the Buckeyes last weekend as they looked focused for the first time all season.
Urban Meyer felt something click and talked at length about the team “coming together” on Monday which could lead to some special things.
They will need to build on that confidence and that focus this week against Nebraska.
The Huskers bring possibly the best offense OSU will face all season into the Horseshoe, and like last week, stopping the run will be priority number one.
Here are some of my thoughts on the upcoming game.
I will start with the defense since they will face by far the biggest challenge this week.
The Cornhuskers are currently ranked 5th in the country in total yards rushing with 305.8 per game.
They are led by the three headed monster of Taylor Martinez (50 att, 298 yds, 6.0 avg, 3 tds) Rex Burkhead (29 att, 273 yds, 9.4 avg, 3 tds) and Ameer Abdullah (79 att, 486 yds, 6.2 avg, 5 tds) while also enjoying solid contributions from Imani Cross and Braylon Heard so far this season.
Stopping so many weapons will likely be a more difficult task this week than it was stopping Le’Veon Bell alone.
My hope is that the Silver Bullets built up some confidence last week that will carry over; but confidence or not it will still be a huge challenge.
While Nebraska’s running game versus Ohio State’s run defense seems to be a strength on strength, passing the ball is a different story.
The Buckeyes still looked bad at times in the secondary against MSU (although not as bad as in previous weeks) and that might be a concern against Nebraska.
It would certainly be a concern if Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez was a proven passer, but he is not.
Martinez can hurt you through the air if you give him a chance, but he is erratic at best.
It might be a case of who has the least bad day when it comes to stopping the Husker passing attack.
That is, of course, assuming that the ground game can be shut down. Otherwise, the Huskers won’t be passing the ball much in the first place.
On offense, the Buckeyes need to continue building confidence and improving as well.
Mistakes and turnovers are still the biggest concerns after the MSU game.
Braxton Miller still struggles mightily making the correct read on the option run (to their credit, the coaching staff abandoned these plays almost completely in the second half against MSU). The team also struggled attacking the defense through the air over the middle, which I suspect falls on Miller as well.
I would really like to see the Buckeyes attack a little more over the middle to take some of the pressure off the edge, but if the coaches don’t trust Miller to make those reads then there is nothing you can do about it.
Urban Meyer claims that the Buckeyes will attack down field more in the coming weeks, so I guess we will see how that works out.
If they can successfully attack the defense vertically (over the middle or otherwise) on a consistent basis that would obviously provide a huge boost to the offense.
Outside of the inconsistency and bad reads, there were some bright spots on offense as well; Carlos Hyde and the offensive line being the primary two.
My hope is that Hyde, led by a surging-just-at-the-right-time offensive line, can continue having success in the power run game to take some pressure off of the QB.
That last 5 yard run on third-and-4 which allowed Ohio State to take a knee and run out the clock in East Lansing was huge. More of that throughout the entire game, please.
If the Buckeyes can prevent Nebraska from running the ball and limit their big gains through the air while being more consistent and balanced on offense, they will have a great shot at winning this game in convincing fashion.
A huge part of achieving those goals will be building on the momentum established against MSU.
If the team regresses for whatever reason and reverts back to the first four games, it will be extremely difficult to defeat a good Husker team, even at home.
Based on his press conference, Urban Meyer thinks the team has turned the corner and I hope that he is right.
One thing is for sure- the atmosphere will be electric at night under the lights as two titans of college football clash in the Horseshoe.
It will be a great game.