#12 Ohio State (5-0) and #21 Nebraska will meet for just the fourth time ever on Saturday night. The Buckeyes hold the 2-1 series edge, but the Huskers won last year's meeting with the school's largest-ever comeback win.
This will be the first time the two schools have met while ranked.
Nebraska is 4-4 in their last eight games on the road. In three of those games, they were at least a 17-point favorite. The other game was against Penn State in the Nittany Lions' first game without Joe Paterno.
For just the eleventh time in school history, the Buckeyes will host a night game. They are 7-3 all-time in such games, but have won just one of their last four. All four of those games, however, have been decided by a touchdown or less.
This game will match two of the five winningest programs in college football history. Nebraska is 850-350-40 all-time. Ohio State is 830-315-53. Both programs have been playing football for 123 years.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
The Cornhuskers come into this game ranked fifth in the nation, and first in the Big Ten, in rushing, averaging 305.8 yards on the ground per game.
They already have four players who have at least one carry of more than 40 yards, and quarterback Taylor Martinez has the Big Ten's longest carry with a 92-yard touchdown run.
Nebraska's top four running backs are all averaging at least 6.2 yards per carry. Leading rusher Ameer Abdullah is averaging 97.2 yards rushing per game, and he's a backup.
Rex Burkhead is the starter, but has battled injuries. What he has not battled much of, however, are defenses. He has rushed for 273 yards in three games this season, averaging 9.4 yards per rush along the way. He has only one negative rush in his 29 carries so far.
You can't talk about the Huskers' running game without also addressing the threat of Martinez at quarterback. He will carry the ball 8-15 times Saturday night, and the Ohio State defense can't afford to let him get to his top gear.
The Buckeyes are currently 19th in the nation in rush defense, allowing 100.8 yards rushing per game. They held Michigan State to just 34 yards on the ground last week, but they were more suited for stopping the Spartans running game than this one.
Nebraska will run various zone reads, and they will also look to run the ball wider in an effort to force the Buckeyes to make one-on-one tackles, which they have struggled with this season.
The Ohio State defensive line will do their jobs well, and if the defense as a whole has a good day tackling, they will win. If they miss in space, then this could turn into somewhat of a shootout regardless of how well the defensive line plays.
Nebraska is very good up front and their deception with the ball will make it a difficult day for the Buckeye linebackers. They will need to play their best game of the year if they are going to contain the Huskers' running game.
To counter Nebraska's spread, the Buckeyes may simply choose to play more nickel, thereby taking middle linebacker Storm Klein off of the field and getting as much speed on the field as they can.
Linebacker Etienne Sabino played his best game as a Buckeye last week and needs to continue that trend in this game as well.
Much has been made of Taylor Martinez's mechanical improvements with his throwing motion, which now have him completing 67.8% of his passes. He is throwing for 211.8 yards per game and has eleven touchdown passes with just one interception.
The Huskers like to throw the quick wide hitch passes, allowing their receivers to gain free yards when cornerbacks aren't pressing them. Nebraska has one of the best receiving groups in the conference, so pressing them may lead to a couple of plays downfield.
The Buckeyes might have the best threesome of cornerbacks in the conference, and starters Bradley Roby and Travis Howard will be relied on to keep the Husker receivers in check from beginning to end. Nebraska will make some plays in the passing game, but the key will be to keep them from hitting homeruns.
Kenny Bell is the lone Husker receiver with a reception of over 36 yards, so Ohio State needs to continue to limit the big plays like almost everybody else has to this point.
While they only have one player with a catch of over 36 yards, they do have ten players with receptions of at least 22 yards. Obviously, the entire back seven needs to be aware of the receivers in their area, because Martinez doesn't discriminate.
Starting safety C.J. Barnett may not play again this week, but fortunately for the Buckeyes, his backup Orhian Johnson has played very well to this point, and has made big plays all season long.
Huskers' kicking specialist Brett Maher has not had the season punting and placekicking that he did last season. His punting average is down over three yards to 41.3, and he is just 7-12 on field goal attempts this season after missing only four attempts last year.
Nebraska is second in the Big Ten in both punt and kick returns as Ameer Abdullah is proving himself to be an extremely dangerous weapon. The Buckeyes, who have struggled recently in kick coverage, cannot afford to allow Abdullah to return anything on Saturday night.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
The Buckeyes are averaging 224.2 yards rushing per game, and quarterback Braxton Miller is netting 115.4 yards of that. Last week against Michigan State he rushed for 136 yards, though he did fumble the ball away twice.
He carried the ball 23 times, which is the same number that he carried it in the two weeks prior combined. He will carry the ball as many times against Nebraska as is necessary to secure a win.
With a trip to Indiana ahead next week, offensive coordinator Tom Herman can dial his quarterback down a bit in Bloomington in order to get as much as possible out of him this week.
Nebraska is allowing 152.8 yards rushing per game, which is tenth in the conference. They actually give up more than that, but their 8.6 tackles for loss per game (which leads the Big Ten) make that number smaller than it could be.
Basically, if the Buckeyes keep the Huskers from tackling them in the backfield, they should have a pretty good day running the ball. Urban Meyer and Herman always talk about an offense being "on schedule" with regards to down and distance, and for good reason. Nebraska is going to try to disrupt that schedule as much as they possibly can.
Starting middle linebacker Will Compton leads the Huskers in both tackles (44) and tackles for loss (6). Nebraska has no problem sending him on the blitz, as evidenced also by his three sacks on the season.
He is not tremendous at the point of attack, and like 99% of other Americans, he is likely to have a few issues bringing Miller down in one-on-one situations.
The next five top tacklers for the Huskers are three members of the secondary and two members of the defensive line. In other words, the Nebraska linebackers are much quieter than they were the last two years.
The Huskers will likely open in a nickel to combat Ohio State's spread offense, which means the Buckeyes could have success running the power plays with Miller and tailback Carlos Hyde.
Ohio State will again be without tailback Jordan Hall, and the coaches clearly aren't confident enough yet in Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn to give them more than cursory carries. This means that it will mostly be Miller and Hyde running the ball, though they should have considerable success doing so.
Last week the Buckeyes had moderate success with quick screens out wide, but Nebraska will plan to limit that by playing closer to the line of scrimmage with their secondary. A couple of play-actions or pump and go passes by Miller could soften that coverage, especially if they connect.
Buckeye receiver Corey Brown is leading the Big Ten in receptions with 32, but he is only averaging 9.9 yards per reception. He needs to be able to break free and pick up more yards after the catch.
Devin Smith is a tremendous complement to Brown, as he is leading the team with four touchdown receptions and is clearly the Buckeyes' big-play receiver.
Ohio State will have plenty of one-on-one opportunities to make plays down the field, they just have to make them.
For those plays downfield to develop, the Buckeye offensive line will have to give Miller enough time to throw the ball. Nebraska leads the Big Ten in sacks with 3.8 per game.
If Miller and his offensive line succeed at keeping plays alive, there will be receivers who get behind defenders.
Special teams will be very important for the Buckeyes, because they cannot afford to let Ameer Abdullah beat them in the return game. Punts will need to be either very high, or directional, and kickoffs should simply head for the endzone.
There will be a desire to pin Abdullah in a corner and try to stop him, but at most you're going to gain eight or ten yards. Are those yards worth it considering what it could cost?
The Buckeyes are still waiting for their first 30-yard kickoff return, though they've only had eight attempts in their first five games.
How It Will End Up
Nebraska gave up 344 yards rushing to UCLA earlier in the season, and the Bruins' offense featured a hard-running tailback and a very good running quarterback.
In that game, Nebraska gave up 653 yards of total offense. They also allowed UCLA to run 94 plays. They couldn't get off of the field.
The Buckeye offense needs to stay on schedule, but when they don't, they will still have Braxton Miller's legs to pick up first downs on third and long.
This is a game that should see Carlos Hyde get 20 carries and try to find a rhythm. If he gets 20 carries, he will have at least one 40-yard run.
The established running game will then allow the Buckeyes to successfully go over the top and hit a couple of deep shots.
The Huskers have struggled on the road in the Big Ten against ranked opponents, losing both times by at least 28 points. This one won't quite approach that, however, because Nebraska will be able to move the ball quite well.
The Husker offense is an offense that the Buckeye defense hasn't done well against the last two seasons, and if they do well against it on Saturday, then they will do it almost completely out of the blue.
As we all saw last season, stopping it for the first half won't mean much if they don't also stop it for the second half.
In the end, however, the Buckeyes will make more plays on both sides of the ball than the Huskers. And after turning the ball over three times last week, Braxton Miller will be more careful with the football this time around.
Ohio State 31 - Nebraska 26
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