When Ohio State and Nebraska line up across from each other on Saturday, they might as well be staring into a mirror.
Both schools primary color is Scarlet.
Both have dual threat quarterbacks that are still trying to become better passers.
Both have defenses that are suspect.
Both have Northeast Ohio natives as head coach.
These also might be the best two teams in the Big Ten conference, although there is still a lot of football to be played in the 2012 regular season.
We do know that these are the two highest ranked schools in the conference, with the Buckeyes 12th in the AP Poll, nine spots ahead of Nebraska (Northwestern is the only other ranked team at 24th).
The Lead Up
While this is only the fourth all-time meeting between the schools, these are two of the legendary programs in college football. They’ve combined for nearly 1,700 all-time wins, 12 national titles and 10 Heisman Trophies.
All that history and the Huskers wrote a new chapter last year in Lincoln. Trailing 27-6 in the third quarter, Big Red rallied for the next 28 points, the largest comeback in school history. It also happened to be the largest blown lead in Ohio State history.
While the Buckeyes will have revenge on their minds, they will need to keep that emotion under control. Making that more difficult will be the atmosphere of just the 12th (officially the 11th thanks to the vacating of the 2010 season) night game in Ohio Stadium’s 90-year history. It will also be only the fourth night game against a Big Ten opponent.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
On one hand, through five games this Ohio State offense still hasn’t really hit on all cylinders. On the other, it was good enough to overcome three turnovers, and nearly reach 400 yards against a very solid Michigan State defense last week.
We’ve heard Urban Meyer repeatedly ask for play-makers on offense to step up. Guys like to Devin Smith, Corey Brown, Jake Stoneburner, etc. However, the stark reality is that the Buckeye offense begins and ends with quarterback Braxton Miller.
He was rolling along against Nebraska last year, until he had to leave the game with an ankle injury. The air went out of the sails of not only the OSU offense, but the defense as well, as Nebraska completed its comeback.
Miller is one of the most dynamic players in all of college football. He has tons of natural ability, and is improving as a football player and a quarterback each week. We’ve seen stutter-steps, jukes and spin moves, but last week in East Lansing, he displayed toughness and heart. The rest of the offense (and once again the team) feeds off of that.
The Huskers struggled with Miller last year, who ran for 91 yards on just 10 carries, and added 95 through the air. Expect the Buckeyes to continue to let Miller run in a variety of ways, and see how Nebraska can handle it.
I also expect to see OSU try to establish a bit of a power game with Carlos Hyde. He began hitting his stride last week in the fourth quarter, and last season ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns in Lincoln.
As always, Miller will need to be able to throw the ball. Any type of success with a downfield passing attack will loosen up the defense, and make the offense’s life easier.
The Huskers defense isn’t up to the level of last year’s just yet. They are allowing just over 20 points per game, but have given up 36 (UCLA) and 27 (Wisconsin) to the only BCS conference schools they’ve played.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
When Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is good, he can generate some potential Heisman Trophy talk. When he is bad, he becomes the favorite whipping boy of the Huskers’ faithful.
He is extremely fast, and as dangerous of a runner as Braxton Miller. In fact, he picked up 102 yards on the ground last year (93 in the second half) against the Buckeyes. The OSU defense will need to keep him in contain, and force him to pass.
Another weapon is hard-nosed running back Rex Burkhead (who also went over 100 yards last year). Nebraska is fifth in the country in rushing offense (305.8 YPG), and tenth in scoring offense (44.8 PPG). This will be a significant challenge for the Silver Bullets.
Don’t forget about Ameer Abdullah who has 486 yards rushing and five touchdowns this season. He’s also a very dangerous kick returner.
I look for Ohio State to get off to a quick start, thanks in part to the night-time crowd at the ‘Shoe. After four ho-hum opponents that kicked at noon so far, the fans are waiting for a reason to explode.
Making adjustments will be critical. Both teams should be able to have some success moving the ball, so whichever defense adjusts the best might be in the best shape.
If Ohio State does get an early lead, the Buckeyes will need to keep the hammer down. Not only was Nebraska’s largest comeback ever last season against OSU, but the second best one occurred last week, beating Wisconsin 30-27 after trailing by 17 earlier in the game.
I think the scoreboard operator gets a workout, with Ohio State posting a 38-28 win. The defense will come up big with some key stops in the second half, and the crowd will bring that “inferno” that Urban Meyer desires.
The coverage on 10TV and www.10tv.com/BuckeyeBlitz
will continue all weekend long. Friday night at 8pm we have a special, one-hour edition of Buckeye Blitz. Dom Tiberi and Beau Bishop will anchor, with guests Roy Hall and Tim May in for Buckeye Xtra.
Saturday, we’ll post game pictures and analysis on our Buckeye Blitz web page, and wrap-up the game with our new “Gameday” coverage at 7pm and 11pm, as well as Wall to Wall Sports at 11:35pm.