Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE
Fresh off a slightly improved week last week, Eric takes another crack at the five things we should be looking for in this weekend's highly anticipated matchup with the Cornhuskers.
Last week was a two-for-five5 performance in "I've got five on it", probably my best performance of the season. How depressing. Braxton Miller did get beaten up by a talented Spartan defense (although, in some cases, well after the whistle or well out of bounds). Additionally, the Spartan offensive line struggled with Ohio State's dominant defensive line, resorting to eye-gouging tactics against Big Hank. Dirty plays like that are why you have to chuckle at Pat Narduzzi's indignation that Ohio State's game film may or may not have been complete. The Spartans play til the echo of the whistle on defense, and sometimes well after that.
Regardless of who's dirty and who's cheating, we may need to do some to get an improved record on these picks! Let's get them started with Numero Uno.
1) Return of Mr. Hyde. No matter how much Urban Meyer's offense spreads out the defense, there's always going to be that desire for a power back at Ohio State. Carlos Hyde looked good last week as the game went on. After Jordan Hall came up lame with a partially torn PCL (prayers, bud, we're gonna need you before the season's out), Carlos Hyde had to do some testing on that sore knee. It looks, at least to the outside observer, as if that knee is fine. Hyde admittedly did not cut too much from side to side, but he didn't have to against the Spartans near the end of the game as the Buckeye offensive line ran the ball down their throats in their own stadium. You just get the feeling that Mr. Hyde is ready to roar out of the gate at some point. This could be the week we see him put on a show, especially against a Nebraska defense that gave up 217 yards to UCLA's Johnathan Franklin.
2) Orhian Johnson will save someone's bacon. The veteran safety has really come up big with the struggles of CJ Barnett, both with injury and play on the field. Barnett is questionable for Saturday's tilt, so expect O to get lots and lots of run. He played like a man with something to prove last week, often being in the right place at the right time when his other defensive teammates were not (looking at you meaningfully, Christian Bryant and Pittsburgh Brown). Johnson had one or two significant, clutch plays that ended Spartan drives or helped them stall. This is Johnson's last hurrah as a Buckeye, so don't be too shocked if the redshirt senior grabs a hold of the starting job in CJ Barnett's absence and doesn't let it go.
3) A steady dose of play-action from Nebraska. Nebraska's two offensive stars are running threats first and foremost. Rex Burkhead is a bruising running back, and even Bradley Roby thinks quarterback Taylor Martinez is fast. However, Martinez has shockingly improved his passing after regressing all of last year. He also has some decent targets. Sophomore receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner, along with veterans Quincy Enunwa and senior Tim Marlowe, have been on the receiving ends of some surprisingly non-dead-duck passes. Senior tight ends Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed could also be big factors, especially if Bo Pelini watches how Ohio State struggled to cover massive Spartan TE Dion Sims last week. The Ohio State defense (especially the linebacking corps) struggles mightily with play-action, so don't be surprised to see Martinez get some quick run fakes and throws in early in an attempt to render the denizens of the 'Shoe mute.
4) Long field goals. Brett Maher, the punter and kicker for Nebraska, won all the hardware for the 2011 season, and there's no reason to think he can't do so again this year. The weather is still relatively warm, and believe it or not both these offenses have struggled at times this year. Drew Basil is no slouch in terms of leg strength either, so I believe we'll see some 45+ field goals made in this game for both sides. Especially if the game is close.
5) More Stoneburner? Where has Jake been these first five weeks? I could use a milk carton joke here but we really need to start finding better metaphors for football players that don't contribute much other than the odd touchdown here and there. Outside of the jump pass against Cal, we haven't seen a whole lot of Jake Stoneburner. Now this matchup with Nebraska is particularly interesting. Although he is taller than Stoneburner, UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria caught three touchdowns in their win against these same 'Huskers in week 2. Now, most likely the Blackshirt defense has adjusted by now, and Fauria is a larger target and probably a better player than Jake Stoneburner, at least through the first five weeks of 2012. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see ol' Stoney have the breakout game we've been waiting for seemingly his whole Buckeye career.
Thoughts? Hopes? Dreams? Let 'em rip in the comments. And check out SB Nation's excellent Corn Nation for all things Husker. Maybe invite a few of 'em over here for some ice cold beverages.