As Ohio State heads into Saturday night's prime time matchup with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, memories of the Buckeyes blown 27-6 lead remain fresh in the minds of many. Like last year, quarterback Braxton Miller has carried way more than his fair share of the weight for Ohio State. Miller has taken a pounding this year the fear that that the next hit may be his last (at least for a game or so) is alive and well among the Buckeye faithful.
The good news for Buckeye fans is unlike last year's meltdown, Ohio State is better prepared for any such tragedy if it comes. This time last year Miller was just getting his feet wet in the world of college football and when he went out, both the offense and defense fell apart. Miller has a much stronger backup in Kenny Guiton. Although Guiton may not bring the same level as MIller, he brings a similar style. He has stepped in and continued Meyer's offensive scheme well for the few plays that Miller has sat out this season. The evidence so far this year also suggests that under Coach Urban Meyer the Buckeyes are a much tougher team mentally and will respond much differently to adversity.
A different look for the Buckeyes
Michigan State was pretty much a one-dimensional or even a one player team. When the Buckeyes shut down the Spartan running game, MSU didn't have much of an answer. Nebraska, however, brings a much more balanced attack and although they've had their hiccups (see UCLA), the Huskers seem to be finding their edge.
The Buckeyes will also see both mobility and passing skills in quarterback Taylor Martinez that they haven't seen yet this season.
Nebraska Offense vs. Buckeye D
Against Michigan State the Buckeye defense really only needed to worry about one person, Le'Veon Bell. Against Nebraska, there are at least three powerhouses with the ability to test Ohio State's rush defense. Along with Martinez's and Ameer Abdulla's 6 yards per carry, Rex Burkhead is averaging nearly 10 yards every time he touches the ball (team avg. 6 yds/carry). While it might make Buckeye fans better to note that Le'Veon Bell was averaging 5.2 yards/carry, 152 per game before meeting the Buckeyes, Martinez' ability to run the option will make this a much different offense than MSU.
The good news for Buckeye fans is that Nebraska has coughed up the ball 14 times so far this season with nine of those fumbles resulting in turnovers. Failed attempts to strip the ball cost the Buckeyes big last weekend. Chances are they have learned to put their helmet on the ball as they wrap the tackle as opposed to running next to the ball carrier flailing at the ball as he runs into the end zone.
Through the air, Martinez is just as impressive sporting a 68 percent passing rate throwing for 11 touchdowns and only one interception. Although the Spartans performed much better through the air than expected last week, Nebraska has no problems if forced to pass. The Buckeyes ability to get a strong push and find themselves in the backfield will be a deciding factor in this game. Likewise, although the secondary has improved, maintaining coverage and preventing big plays will be huge.
Ohio State offense vs. Nebraska D
Although Braxton Miller is still the workhorse of the Ohio State offense, the Buckeyes got duel production out of both Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde against Michigan State. The Hyde/Hall combo gives the buckeyes the open field outside running game in Hall while Hyde can smash it right up the middle in the way Big Ten teams like Nebraska and Ohio State traditionally move the ball.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes though, Hall is out with a knee injury.
Given that Hall is out, Hyde might be a more appropriate fit against Nebraska anyway. Miller can take the scrambling, quick runs and when needed, Hyde's ability to go uphill and eat clock can be of value.
The biggest thing for Ohio State will be the offensive line. They have continued to improve every game this season and are starting to jell as a group. The bad news for Buckeye fans is that Nebraska leads the B1G in tackles for a loss and has held opponents to a third down conversion rate of around 1-3. They also held Wisconsin to only 90 yards rushing and a pathetic 12 yards in the second half.
Then of course there is the deep pass to Devin Smith. Smith has the ability to find himself in the open field and Miller's ability to get the ball to him is getting better and better every Saturday. With Nebraska's penchant for one on one coverage expect Smith to test the Nebraska secondary in a chase for the long ball.
Miller has shown development in decision-making ability and determining when to tuck and run. Given the time he can make big things happen. If the offensive line can protect Miller, open holes for Hyde and let the Buckeye offense go to work they will be celebrating in Columbus Sat. night.
The Horror Factor
Don't think for a minute that the Buckeyes have forgotten last year. Most of these guys were on the field that day in Nebraska and felt the pain of letting one of the biggest comebacks in the history of Ohio State happen to them. Add in a prime-time game at home and you know that they've been using this game for motivation all season. A worst case loosing Miller scenario might even inspire the Buckeyes as the desire to right last year's wrongs overtake them.
Buckeyes are 3.5 point underdogs but the memory of last year's game alone is worth at least one touchdown. Expect the Buckeyes to remain undefeated come Sunday morning.