Nebraska (4-1) at Ohio State (5-0) Oct. 6, 8:00, ABC
Here’s The Deal: Who says the Big Ten stinks? Ohio State might not be pretty, but it’s showing in a redshirt season under Urban Meyer that it’s mentally and physically tough as it has found ways to get the job done. Nebraska might have had problems at UCLA, but it showed last week it could adapt and adjust under adversity overcoming a miserable start against Wisconsin to come up with a breathtaking second half on the way to a 30-27 win.
If last week’s Ohio State game against Michigan State was considered a sort of Big Ten championship game – considering the Buckeyes aren’t eligible to play for the title this year – then with the win, this is now step two in the run with the Michigan game to finish things off at the end of the regular season. There’s still a road game against Wisconsin to deal with, and Penn State and Purdue could be a problem, but OSU is the best team in the Leaders so far and can prove it by getting the ground game going, getting more out of the defense, and coming away with its fist Big Ten win over the Huskers after losing 34-27 last year at Lincoln.
Quarterback Braxton Miller is a fringe Heisman candidate – there might not be a more valuable player – while the run defense has been terrific and the coaching has been excellent considering the circumstances. There’s talent in Columbus, but it’s not at the same level it was at the height of the Jim Tressel or John Cooper eras. With some big recruiting classes coming in, the future is bright under Meyer, but nothing would show that the program is on the right track more than beating a team like Nebraska that’s appearing to find itself at just the right time.
Are the Huskers going to start throwing it more, or are they going to focus on being a running team that happens to throw? Is the defense going to live up to the program’s reputation, or is it going to be inconsistent and have problems against the more powerful offenses? Nebraska has yet to play the same game twice this year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It adapted and adjusted against Wisconsin with Taylor Martinez using all his talents to keep things moving, while the defense was frothing at the mouth over the last 20 minutes. There was a shootout against UCLA, and a bombing against Southern Miss. The team is still improving, but now is the time it all needs to come together with road games against Northwestern and Michigan State wrapped around a home date against Michigan to follow.
Ohio State is 2-1 all-time in the series with both victories coming at home in 1956 and 1957.
Why Nebraska Might Win: Ohio State has one pitch and dares teams to hit it. With running back Jordan Hall hurting with a knee injury suffered against Michigan State, the offense will be even more Braxton Miller, Braxton Miller and more Braxton Miller. Last week against Wisconsin, Nebraska loaded up to stop Montee Ball and dared Joel Stave to try making the passing game go. Ball ended up with 90 yards and three scores, but he only averaged 2.8 yards per carry. The defensive front is doing a fantastic job of getting into the backfield, leading the Big Ten in both sacks and tackles for loss, and it’s aggressive enough and good enough to get to Miller before he can get started.
Offensively, Nebraska might have the balance needed to keep the Buckeyes off balance. Cal, despite all of its troubles, is the one team on the slate that can do a little of everything offensively, and it showed in the battle with OSU getting 288 passing yards and 224 on the ground. Nebraska still wants to run the ball whenever it can, but the improved passing of Taylor Martinez has changed the equation. The Huskers have the Big Ten’s most efficient passing game, and if the Buckeye safeties cheat up, Martinez can strike.
Why Ohio State Might Win: 22 carries, 34 yards, no rushing first downs. That’s what Michigan State’s supposedly vaunted ground game came up with last week with the offensive line not generating any push whatsoever. The Buckeyes might not be getting into the backfield, and they might have been gouged by Cal’s ground attack, but they’re improving and they showed last week that they can control the line. Martinez might be an improved passer, but OSU will take its chances with the Nebraska air attack rather than dealing with him running through the second level.
Nebraska has had a fumbling problem lately, and it helped give the Badgers a big early lead. With a whopping 14 fumbles over the last four games, losing nine of them, the Huskers have ball security issues and OSU will try to take advantage of them. While the Buckeye D hasn’t been great at taking the ball away, the offense needs the breaks and needs the short fields as much as possible. If OSU can be +2 in turnover margin, it should be in good shape.
What To Watch For: It’s the Taylor vs. Braxton show, but Nebraska has two more weapons to utilize in Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead, who came back from injury to shine over the last two weeks. Abdullah is bringing the speed and versatility as a receiver and a kickoff returner as well as a runner, while Burkhead brings a bit more power. Last year, Burkhead rumbles for a tough 119 yards and one score in the win, but it was Martinez who took over running for 102 yards and throwing for 191 more and two touchdowns. While No. 3 is getting more credit for his improved passing skills, throwing 11 touchdown passes so far after pitching 13 all of last year, he’s just as effective on the ground running for over 100 yards against both UCLA and Wisconsin.
While Martinez has been great, Miller has been phenomenal. He got banged up against MSU, but he managed to fight through the problems to finish with 136 rushing yards while completing 16-of-23 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown with a pick. He only attempted eight passes in last year’s loss, but he ran for 91 yards. If he doesn’t hit the 100-yard mark and doesn’t hit on at least one big scoring play, OSU will have a hard time keeping up.
What Will Happen: Nebraska is getting too much out of its passing game and the defensive front has been playing too well for the Buckeyes to pull this off. Ohio State is finding ways to pull off wins, but Michigan State isn’t getting into the backfield and isn’t getting to the quarterback – that helped Miller get by. He won’t have the same luck against the Nebraska D.
CFN Prediction: Nebraska 27 … Ohio State 23
ATS Consultants Line Ohio State -3.5 O/U: 58
Must Watch Rating (5 – Master, 1 – Trouble with the Curve): 4.5
Week 6 CFN Fearless Prediction – Nebraska at Ohio State
Nebraska (4-1) at Ohio State (5-0) Oct. 6, 8:00, ABC