Two of the top teams in the Big Ten Conference square off in Columbus on Saturday night, as No. 21 Nebraska comes calling on No. 12 Ohio State.
Nebraska split its first two games of the season, winning at home versus Southern Miss (49-20) and losing at UCLA (36-30). The Cornhuskers regrouped after the setback to the Bruins to reel off three consecutive wins, and they recently matched the second-largest comeback in school history by battling back from 17 points down in the second half to claim a 30-27 win over the visiting Wisconsin Badgers in last week’s conference opener. The win avenged an embarrassing 48-17 loss to UW in Nebraska’s first-ever Big Ten bout last year.
Coach Bo Pelini was proud of his team after the recent win, and rightfully so.
“We made it hard on ourselves, but as a football team, we made a lot of mistakes in that game. We didn’t play our best football, we didn’t play nearly as well as we are capable of playing. But we got a ‘W,’ and we stayed the course as a football team. Our guys showed the character, the toughness, the perseverance to overcome not playing our best football.”
As for Ohio State, it has won all five of its games to this point, making Urban Meyer just the third head coach in school history to begin his tenure at 5-0. Meyer improved to 11-0 all-time in conference openers as a head coach after his Buckeyes slipped past Michigan State on the road last weekend, 17-16. It was the first away game for OSU, which opened the campaign with four straight in Columbus, and the team will play five of its first six and six of its first eight in front of the hometown faithful.
With his first Big Ten game under his belt, Meyer was obviously pleased with the effort his team put forth last week, but was also quick to praise the opposition.
“This was a war, and this was two sledgehammers going at each other. I know the Big Ten has taken some heat; I thought that was a great game, great atmosphere, bunch of great players on the field…We played at the next level and that was good for college football and good for the Big Ten.”
Nebraska trails in the all-time series with Ohio State, 2-1, but its lone victory came in last year’s clash in Lincoln, the first Big Ten game ever played there, as the Huskers overcame a 21-point deficit to prevail, 34-27. It was the largest lead ever squandered by the Buckeyes in a loss.
This bout marks Nebraska’s first visit to Ohio Stadium since 1956.
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez threw for 181 yards and two TDs last Saturday against Wisconsin, while rushing for 107 yards and a score to fuel the improbable Cornhusker rally. RB Rex Burkhead added 86 yards on 18 totes for an NU offense that gained 440 total yards, compared to just 295 for the Badgers.
The Cornhuskers, who scored on all five trips to the red zone, were fortunate to have only lost two fumbles, as they put the ball on the carpet a total of six times. Additionally, they were penalized six times for a loss of 70 yards, compared to just twice (15 yards) for the Badgers.
The Huskers are the Big Ten’s top offensive team, averaging 44.8 points and 521.4 yards per contest. Typically, they use a bruising ground attack (308.8 ypg, 15 TDs) to batter their opponents into submission, with RB Ameer Abdullah leading the charge with 486 yards and five scores. Fellow RB Rex Burkhead (273 yards, three TDs) is a major contributor as well, and Martinez averages nearly 60 rushing ypg while finding the end zone three times.
A 67.8 percent passer who averages 211.8 ypg, Martinez has thrown 11 TD passes and only one interception, and three different receivers have logged double- digit catches, led by Quincy Enunmwa (16 receptions, 173 yards, one TD). WR Kenny Bell leads the team with 330 yards and four receiving TDs.
Wisconsin star RB Montee Ball ran for 90 yards and three TDs last week, but the Huskers were credited with three sacks and 12 TFL in all, dropping their net rushing yield to just 56 yards. LB Will Compton had 10 tackles, including three TFL and one sack.
Nebraska is giving up 20.6 ppg to tie for seventh in the Big Ten heading into action this week, and the “Blackshirts” have performed better against the pass (188.0 ypg, fourth in the league) than they have the run (152.8 ypg, 10th). Compton is at the top of the team’s tackles list with 44, six of which have been for negative yardage, including three of NU’s 19 sacks.
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller threw for 179 yards and ran for another 136, helping the Buckeyes slip past Michigan State in East Lansing last Saturday. In addition to Miller’s exploits, WR Philly Brown finished with a career-high 12 catches for 84 yards, and WR Devin Smith turned a pair of grabs into 79 yards and a TD.
Miller is hitting 62.8 percent of his passes for 186.6 ypg, and he has eight TD tosses and only three interceptions. Brown is his favorite target, catching 32 balls for 317 yards and a score, although Smith (19 receptions, 351 yards, four TDs) has been even more productive with fewer chances. Miller is clearly the Buckeyes’ best option when running the football, toting it 90 times for 577 yards and seven TDs.
Last week, the Ohio State defense did an exceptional job shutting down the Michigan State rushing attack, which features the Big Ten’s leading rusher (Le’Veon Bell), yielding a mere 34 net yards on 22 carries. DB Bradley Roby led the team with nine tackles and he added a pair of PBU.
Meyer was ecstatic with the way his defense played against a formidable ground attack, “Are you kidding? If you had to say who’s the MVP … that D-line and linebackers did a very, very nice job stopping a very good rushing attack.”
For the season, the Buckeyes are giving up an average of 17.0 ppg to rank third in the conference, and their effort against the run (100.8 ypg, third- best in the league) has been far superior to that versus the pass (275.6 ypg, 11th). The OSU defense ranks among the Big Ten leaders in both interceptions (seven) and sacks (12). LB Ryan Shazier continues to pace the team with 48 tackles.