CFB GAME PREVIEW: (5) Ohio State @ Nebraska
By Joshua Edwards
The unbeaten, 4-0 Buckeyes travel to Lincoln for a challenging primetime tilt against their Big 10 rivals Nebraska. Josh Edwards takes a detailed look at the two teams’ seasons thus far and their respective chances on Saturday night.
THE TWO TEAMS:
Ohio State are rolling at 4-0 having beaten Florida Atlantic, Cincinatti, Indiana and the University of Miami OHIO. Georgia transfer Justin Fields has a different skillset to last year’s starting signal-caller Dwayne Haskins but has been just as prolific, throwing for 880 yards, 13 scores and no interceptions through 4 games. The Buckeyes are very hopeful of a first CFB Playoff berth since the inaugural competition back in 2014-15, when they won the championship game against Oregon.
Nebraska are 3-1 after wins against South Alabama, Northern Illinois and Illinois but an overtime loss in their rivalry game against Colorado in Boulder. The Huskers haven’t particularly impressed in their wins, especially last week where they led for just 9 minutes against Illinois and allowed 38 points to the fighting Illini. Dual threat sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez is a legitimate playmaker to be accounted for – he threw for 327 yards and rushed for 118 last week. In terms of offensive weapons, receiver JD Spielman is leading the Huskers in receiving with 383 yards and a score. Nebraska will hope to win enough games to face the Buckeyes again, in the Big 10 championship game, later in the year.
The two teams have faced off just 7 times in the past, Ohio State holding a 6-1 advantage. The Huskers sole win came back in 2011, quarterback Taylor Martinez (no relation to Adrian) throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for another in a 34-27 win in Lincoln.
Ryan Day was Ohio State’s co-QB coach/offensive co-ordinator when Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave last year, and soon became the interim head coach before being confirmed as the full time HC when Meyer retired post-Rose Bowl. This is Day’s first full time head coaching job and he inherits a fantastic roster full of star talent on both sides of the ball, including Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields. Day was a tight end at New Hampshire where he was coached and mentored by Chip Kelly, who later hired him as quarterbacks coach in Philly before the entire staff was relieved of its duties. Day went on record prior to the season stating his ideal offense would consist of 250 rushing and 250 passing yards per game in a completely balanced, 50/50 run-pass attack.
Scott Frost is in his second full season at Nebraska, which is his second head coaching job, having coached two years at UCF previously. He currently holds a 26-16 career record, and a 7-9 overall record for the Huskers. A former safety at Stanford, then triple-option quarterback at Nebraska, Scott uses the option but from the shotgun, spreading his receivers out. He leans on Martinez’s rushing ability and will take some solace from the fact that Ohio State struggled with his scheme last year before eventually winning out 36-31. Defensively Scott likes quick linebackers and lineman to be able to run a hybrid 3-4/4-3 designed to be explosive and create turnovers against the spread offenses so common in college football.
THE KEY MATCHUP: CAN THE HUSKERS PROTECT MARTINEZ?
Perhaps the only way Nebraska can hope to shock Ohio State is by keeping star quarterback Adrian Martinez upright. The Huskers offensive line will definitely have to improve on their week 2 effort against Colorado, in which the sophomore was sacked 6 times. It’ll be a tall task though- the Buckeyes defense lead the Big 10 in sacks and are tied no.1 in the nation with 20 through 4 games. They’re equally good against the run, limiting teams to just 60 rushing yards per game thus far. Stopping defensive end Chase Young will be a priority for Nebraska but a better strategy might be to use misdirection and trickery to limit Young’s effectiveness. Turnovers caused by pressure will absolutely kill any chance of a win for Nebraska – they’ve got to do everything they can to limit them and wear down Ohio State’s tough defensive front.
THE DRAFT PROSPECTS:
Chase Young, DL: I can’t speak highly enough of Young. Considered this year’s premier pass rusher in the draft, the 6’5, 295lb lineman had 10.5 sacks last year and his seen his draft stock skyrocket already in 2019 after notching 7 sacks in just 4 games. He is dominating opposition on a weekly basis with his size, speed, power and athleticism. He’s currently going second overall on most early mock drafts and it is easy to see why.
Jeffrey Okudah, CB: Okudah was a 5 start recruit coming out of high school. He has excellent speed and instincts, allowing him to close on the ball quickly and break up passes, and he’s a sound tackler (14 so far this season). This is the season for him to shine. The 6’1, 200lb corner is following the same college path as ex-teammate Denzel Ward: special teams as a freshman, rotation as a sophomore, full-time starter as a junior. He got the first pick of his career last week and has a shot at a developing into a day one draft selection in 2020.
J.K. Dobbins, RB: Dobbins might be Ohio State’s best back since Ezekiel Elliot. The 5’10, 217lb ball carrier is once again averaging the 7+ yards per carry of his freshman year and has already rushed for 477 yards and 5 scores in just 4 games this year. He can break long runs at any time and hasn’t fumbled in 492 career carries. It’s a loaded running back class (Taylor, Etienne, Swift et al) but Dobbins has a decent chance to be a taken in perhaps the second round in the spring.
Malik Harrison, LB: The 6’3, 240lb backer has 1.5 sacks and 18 tackles so far this season and has garnered national attention for his big hitting style. Equally adept against the run and pass, Harrison has a great chance to develop in his junior year as a full-time starter. He may well climb the draft boards throughout the season if he continues to put up highlight plays.
Darrion Daniels, DL: The Oklahoma State transfer moved to Lincoln in order to play his final year of eligibility alongside his brother, Damion, and has already begun to eat into the younger sibling’s playing time. Daniels has impressive speed – before he got to college and bulked up to 320lbs he ran a 4.76 40 yard dash. There’s every chance scouts fall in love with his leadership and physical traits and take a punt on Daniels in 2020.
Carlos Davis, DL: Davis is a 6’2, 325lb bruiser with the versatility to play anywhere on the defensive line. Quick and athletic, being able to play nose tackle and defensive end is particularly appealing to NFL teams, but Davis will have to have a standout year to be considered anything more than a mid-later round flier in the draft.
Lamar Jackson, CB: As athletically gifted for his position as his NFL QB namesake, Jackson stands tall at 6’3 and 215lbs and did well to return from a benching last year with renewed determination, finishing the season strong and ending with 28 tackles, 7 pass break ups and one interception. He would be a project for an NFL team but has the physical traits a lot of scouts are looking for in the pass heavy pro-game.
College GameDay make their way to Lincoln for this one and for good reason – the Memorial Stadium has been sold-out for every home game since 1962 and Huskers fans would love nothing more than to put a serious dent in the Buckeyes playoff hopes. Adrian Martinez has the kind of skillset to help Nebraska move the ball on anyone on a good day but the Nebraska defense isn’t going to stop Fields and company getting into the endzone enough times to pull off a shock. It’s hard to watch last week’s game tape against Illinois and have any confidence in the Huskers defense but it’s amazing what a sense of occasion can do, and I actually like Nebraska to start hot in this one.
Ultimately though this is the most balanced Ohio State team in a long time and their quality will win out in the end, albeit in a far tighter game than the line suggests. Nebraska haven’t beaten a top 10 opponent since Michigan State in 2015 and they are unlikely to break that 5 game skid on Saturday.
Prediction: Ohio State 30-27 Nebraska
JOSH IS A CFB SPECIALIST, LONG SUFFERING RESKINS FAN AND BUDDING HISTORIAN OF THE GAME BASED IN LONDON. CHECK OUT HIS ARTICLES HERE AND FOLLOW HIM @JOSHWA_1990 ON TWITTER.