In perhaps the team’s best performance of the season, the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (8-1, 5-1) dominated the No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-2, 4-2) to win 62-3 at Ohio Stadium on Saturday night. Both sides of the ball turned in impressive performances for the Buckeyes as the Ohio State offense put up 590 yards of total offense, compared to the 204 from the Huskers.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett had one of his most impressive passing performances of the season, throwing for 290 yards on 26 for 38 passing and four touchdowns through the air, before exiting late in the third quarter. On the whole, nine receivers caught passes for OSU, including three for wide receiver Corey Smith who has missed substantial time this season with a wrist injury.
Despite the on-field success for OSU, the game took a frightening turn late in the second quarter when Nebraska senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. was knocked out of bounds by Malik Hooker after a third down conversion. As he fell, Armstrong hit his head on the ground, and according to Nebraska’s sports information department, was briefly unconscious. After being attended to by both teams’ medical personnel, the quarterback was taken by ambulance to the nearby Ohio State Medical Center. After being checked out, doctors told head coach Mike Riley that there did not appear to be any damage to the QBs spine, and the senior returned to Ohio Stadium in the second half, thankfully looking strong and healthy.
Unfortunately for the Nebraska faithful that made the trip to Columbus, Armstrong’s return to the stadium was one of the few bright moments on the night. After receiving the opening kick-off, on third-down, Armstrong’s first pass was deflected by OSU middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan and picked off by safety Damon Webb, who returned it 36 yards for the Buckeyes’ fifth pick-six of the season; setting a new school record... for the time being.
Nebraska converted four third-downs on the subsequent drive; the first on a pass interference, and the second on a pass deflected by wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp and caught by fellow WR Stanley Morgan, Jr. for a 26 yard gain. However, after running six plays inside the red-zone, the Buckeye defense stiffened up and held the Cornhuskers to a field goal, cutting the lead to 7-3.
Despite leaving last week’s game against Northwestern with an ankle injury, Parris Campbell took the ensuing kick-off to the 40, setting up the offense with great field position in their first possession of the game.
From there, the Buckeye play-calling seemed focused on getting H-back Curtis Samuel involved early with a nine-yard reception and a 16-yard end-around on the first two plays from scrimmage. After a holding call, a delay of game, and a drop by tight-end Marcus Baugh, quarterback J.T. Barrett completed a 22-yard pass to Dontre Wilson on 3rd and 20. A few plays later, again on third down, Barrett scrambled to his left to complete a seven-yard TD pass to Terry McLaurin to push the Buckeyes up 14-3.
On the next NU drive, Armstrong completed a 32-yard pass to Westerkamp to give the quarterback the school record in total offense, but after Marshon Lattimore knocked away a deep third-down pass to Morgan, the Cornhuskers were forced to punt, and Ohio State took over at their own 17.
The drive saw a concerted effort to get Samuel the ball, including on a direct snap for 11 yards. From right around midfield, Barrett under-threw a wide open Samuel inside the five, but because the receiver had to come back to the ball, Nebraska was flagged for pass interference. Two plays later from the 22, freshman running back Mike Weber gathered a head of steam and broke through a series of arm tackles to reach paydirt, putting the Buckeyes up 21-7 early in the second quarter.
After a block in the back on the subsequent kickoff pinned Nebraska inside their own five, the defense forced a shanked punt, so the Buckeyes began their next possession from the 32.
Freshman WR Binjimen Victor couldn’t corral a third-down TD pass, and the drive resulted in a 28-yard Tyler Durbin FG to extend the lead to 24-3, but the drive was marked by missed opportunities in the passing game. Barrett overthrew two wide-open receivers that would have resulted in touchdowns, making the total at least four poorly thrown balls that could have resulted in big gains for the Buckeyes in the first half.
After holding the Huskers to a three-and-out, Wilson again mishandled a punt that was recovered by Nebraska’s Luke McNitt. Three plays later on a third-and-seven, Armstrong kept the ball and bounced outside for a first down, but after being knocked out of bounds, his head bounced on the turf, leaving the quarterback motionless for a few minutes. The Nebraska and Ohio State medical staffs cautiously put a brace on Armstrong’s neck and placed him on a board to get him off the field and to the hospital. Before he was taken off the field, the senior could be seen opening his eyes, speaking, and eventually giving a thumbs up to an obviously concerned crowd. Fortunately, the medical attention appear to have been taken in an abundance of caution, as Armstrong spent most of the second half on the sideline talking to his teammates.
Senior quarterback Ryker Fyfe came in to replace Armstrong, completing his first pass, but on 4th-and-1, he was unable to get a pass around Tyquan Lewis. He was forced to throw it away, resulting in a turnover on downs.
On the next drive, Barrett held onto the ball on 3rd-and-9, picking up 20 to the 36; on a pass-heavy drive, Samuel caught four balls for 37 yards. On first and goal with seven seconds remaining in the first half and a 24-3 lead, Barrett took the snap and ran one yard towards the line and pulled the old Tim Tebow jump-pass to Samuel to end the half with a 31-3 lead.
After overthrowing multiple potential touchdowns in the first half, on the first play from scrimmage after halftime, Barrett delivered a near perfect play-action pass to Samuel for a 75-yard TD. Samuel blew by his defender early in the route, and then broke a tackle for his second touchdown catch in as many offensive plays.
Nebraska was held to a three-and-out on their next possession. The Buckeyes threw on six of nine plays on the next drive, resulting in a six-yard TD pass to WR Noah Brown, moving the score to 45-3. The drive also saw an impressive reception (15 yards) and run (24 yards) from Weber. Throughout the entire game, Weber showed a strength and toughness that looked beyond his freshman status. He routinely took on would-be tacklers to pick up extra yards, beginning to work himself into the bruising mold of other recent Ohio State running backs. However, after the 24-yard run, Weber apparently hurt his shoulder, and with the game out of hand, he did not return. He finished the day with 72 rushing yards on 11 carries, and the 15-yard reception.
Following Durbin’s second FG of the game, OSU cornerback Denzel Ward deflected a Fyfe pass that was collected by Hooker who weaved his way in and out of traffic for an impressively athletic 48-yard interception return for a touchdown; his second, and the team’s sixth, of the season.
On the next drive, despite picking up 63 yards on 10 plays, Nebraska came up a yard short on 4th-and-8 at Ohio State’s two yard line. On the next drive, back-up Joe Burrow took over the quarterbacking responsibilities with 12:34 left in the game. The QB went 6/6 for 62 yards and looked incredibly sharp guiding the offense in mop-up duty.
Freshmen running back Demario McCall and receiver K.J. Hill (five catches for 66 yards) had impressive performances after the game was out of reach. In fact, McCall finished the game with 73 yards rushing to lead the team.
On the first drive of the fourth quarter, they both made the most of the opportunity, picking up good yardage, but it was Burrow who took the ball into the endzone on a 12-yard keeper to move the score to 62-3 with 7:19 to go. The score proved to be the final one of the game, marking Nebraska’s second worse loss in history, following a 70-10 defeat at the hands of Texas Tech in 2010.
3 things we learned:
1) Ohio State’s offense is still capable of making plays
Since demolishing Rutgers on the first day of October, the Ohio State offense has seemed to be a shell of its early-season self; or for a more apt analogy, it often felt as if it had crawled back into its shell. For weeks, OSU opponents had been bludgeoned by heavy doses of zone reads and short passes.
Against Nebraska, while not everything was successful, the Buckeyes infused a bit more creativity into the playcalling; from downfield (however often overthrown) passes, to multiple end-arounds, to shovel passes, to a jump pass. Coming into the game, Nebraska had the nation’s 15th best scoring defense, allowing only 18.4 points per game, but through a renewed aggressiveness and creativity, the Buckeyes put up 62 points, their second highest total of the season.
While Ed Warinner and Tim Beck’s play-calling helped, much of the credit can be given to the offensive line, which looked incredibly stout against the Huskers. While the unit has received a fair amount of criticism in recent weeks, they dominated the line of scrimmage giving Barrett plenty of time in the pocket, and creating holes for running backs. If the Buckeyes hope to run the table and make the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years, the offensive productivity is going to have to look much more like this than the outputs against Indiana, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Northwestern
2) Curtis Samuel is a virtually unstoppable offensive weapon
While he’s not exactly at Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl levels, the H-back was lights out against Nebraska. He accounted for 178 yards from scrimmage (41 rushing, 137 receiving) and two touchdowns, which played a huge role in the offensives resurgence mentioned above.
What’s more is that the offensive coaching staff found different ways to get him the ball. Yes, he got it on a few zone reads, but he also saw a direct snap and end arounds, but he also was targeting running routes on numerous branches of the passing tree.
Armchair play-callers have been longing for Samuel to be more involved in the offense for weeks; apparently Meyer and company have finally figured out away to make that happen.
3) Ohio State’s defense is in fact amongst the elites in the country
While giving up 21 points per game over the past month has felt like a frustrating disappointment for many fans, the Buckeyes still ranked sixth in the country in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) coming into the matchup against Nebraska.
Against the Huskers, the defense seemingly returned to their early-season dominance. The OSU front-four was able to pressure the NU quarterbacks into hurried throws without much of a blitzing presence, and the secondary, which had been much maligned in recent weeks, turned in an outstanding effort. In addition to the two picks by Webb and Hooker, the DBs came up with multiple pass breakups on key third downs to end drives.
Both because of a ferocious OSU front and a rapidly escalating deficit, the Huskers more or less abandoned the run, rushing for only 78 yards. Like the offense, if this is a sign of things to come down the homestretch and into the postseason, the future is looking much more bright for the Buckeyes than it was 24 hours ago.