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Ohio State at Nebraska: game preview, prediction, and 6 things to know

The Buckeyes head to Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers.

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

There is no shortage of quotable personae in the college football universe. Hell, sometimes it feels like the game itself was created as sort of an afterthought, a publicly-engaging vehicle used as a front to get these guys' words out into the mainstream.

You've got your classics, like Woody Hayes' seminal "because I couldn't go for three." You've got your modern iterations, like Boston College's Steve Addazio, who fails the Hemingway test by a single word in this gem:

And then you've got first-year Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco (formerly of UConn and Notre Dame), who is on a galaxy brain meme-worthy level all by himself.

Diaco once half-jokingly (we think) proposed that UConn, in an effort to build its brand among younger players, "target six-year-olds to 16-year-olds, how about that? Eventually they're going to be 18 to 35. Let's broadcast our games on Nickelodeon."

As Calvin once said, it takes an uncommon mind to think of these things, Hobbes.

Unfortunately for Diaco and Nebraska, Ohio State has built one of the strongest recruiting brands of any school in the country, and it's paid dividends: the Buckeye roster is stacked with the kind of 4- and 5-star talent that Nebraska hasn't really sniffed since the 1990s.

The Huskers enter Saturday's matchup with a 3-3 record, having posted wins against Arkansas State, Illinois, and Rutgers. They've been beaten by a decent Oregon team, a top-10 Wisconsin team, and in a head-scratcher against Northern Illinois. The star-studded hire of Diaco to run the team's defense under head coach Mike Riley has yet to improve the Huskers in any meaningful way, and the former B1G West powerhouse is struggling to stay afloat in an evermore inequitable college football landscape.

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, look to have gotten themselves back on track in a big way since a stilted and embarrassing home loss to Oklahoma in the season's second week. While they've hardly faced top-flight competition, the Buckeyes have seized every opportunity to steadily build up their arsenal and beat a host of bad teams by about a million points each.

The last time Ohio State and Nebraska faced off, the Buckeyes walked out of the Horseshoe with a 62-3 win. The game's in Lincoln this year, but the result might look almost as lopsided again.

Ohio State’s biggest advantages

The Dobbins-Weber one-two punch. How do we put this lightly? Nebraska's run defense is...not good. Per S&P+, the Huskers are 87th in run defense efficiency, 48th in explosive run defense, and 105th in stuff rate. If you'd rather not bother with analytics, consider that just last week, the Wisconsin RB our friends at the Solid Verbal have dubbed "Jonathan Taylor Tailback" hit the ground to the tune of 249 yards and two TDs on just 25 carries.

Given that Mike Weber, though hobbled in 2017, was one of the conference's best running backs last year, and that true freshman J.K. Dobbins has lit the league on fire this year, the Huskers juuuuust might be in trouble here. The Buckeyes can flat out run—the ground game ranks 2nd, 51st, and 2nd nationally, respectively, in the categories listed for Nebraska's defense above—and they can do it with any of a half-dozen guys on the roster. Parris Campbell, Antonio Williams, Demario McCall, and J.T. Barrett are all threats to take it to the house outside of the every-down backs.

A hungry defensive front. The Buckeye defensive line is a talented one, and that's bad news for Huskers QB Tanner Lee, who has to deal with the combination of a shaky offensive line and his own questionable decision-making. Ohio State's DL is first in the country in the always-fun Havoc Rate stat, which compares sacks, forced fumbles, pass breakups, and tackles for loss to total plays run. Despite a quiet season for Tyquan Lewis (by his standards, anyway), the Buckeyes' line has been outstanding, paced by Nick Bosa's 4.0 sacks and 10 TFLs. Lee doesn't scramble well, instead often forcing throws from his back foot, and that won't help the Huskers much against a pass rush like this one.

A rapidly-improving secondary. After allowing Baker Mayfield to look like Tom Brady for four quarters in early September, the Ohio State pass defense has grown up in a hurry. Safety Damon Webb leads the team in both tackles and interceptions, while CB Denzel Ward has racked up nine pass breakups on his heavy volume of targets.

Given that Tanner Lee has thrown 10 interceptions to just 11 TDs this season (by comparison, J.T. Barrett has thrown just one pick to his 16 TDs), it feels like the odds of the Buckeye secondary forcing one or two more turnovers are pretty high.

Nebraska's biggest advantages

Stout linebackers. The Huskers have a very solid trio of linebackers in Chris Weber, Luke Gifford, and Dedrick Young II. The three of them have combined for 3.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, 13 run stuffs, and two interceptions this season. While those numbers don't necessarily jump off the page, they're nothing to sneeze at, and Weber, Gifford, and Young are a big reason Nebraska has climbed to 35th in defensive S&P+ despite the team's other shortcomings. If the Huskers are going to be able to slow down Ohio State's offense at all, it will start with these guys.

Tanner Lee's good side. Despite his disappointing stats, the Tulane transfer certainly does have moments where he shines. As my colleague Chris Jason breaks down here, Lee has a cannon and a knack for placing the ball right where it needs to be. Lee's bad turnovers are more a factor of his judgement than a lack of arm strength or accuracy—check the video linked above where Lee drops the ball into his receiver's breadbasket from 48 yards away—and if the Huskers' o-line does buy him a little time, Lee might make a few impressive plays downfield.

Go-to guys. While the last two seasons have been mired in questions about who the true No. 1 in the Buckeye receiving corps should be, Nebraska has faced no such difficulties. In Stanley Morgan and De'Mornay Pierson-El, the Huskers have a receiving tandem that's combined for nine TDs, 873 yards, and 54 catches. Pierson-El has a catch rate of 75% and is averaging more than 11 yards per target.

Given that Damon Arnette will be missing the first half of the game for Ohio State thanks to last week's targeting ejection, the Huskers probably have a better chance of moving the ball through the air in the game's first 30 minutes than they would normally. If a few things break the right way for Lee and his terrifying pair of receivers, Nebraska could stick around longer than most people are betting on.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Ohio State 38.2, Nebraska 16.5 Win Probability: Ohio State 90%

Ohio State is far from a perfect football team, and there are still so many kinks to be worked out for Urban Meyer and co. before Penn State rolls around. But the Buckeyes have some serious mojo to go with their ridiculously productive performances the last four weeks, and it's hard to see this one going any way other than "lopsided." Nebraska seems to be heading in the right direction as a program, and the Diaco hire is an exciting one, but they're not there yet. Ohio State should roll.

How to watch, stream, listen to Nebraska v. Ohio State:

Game Time: Saturday, October 14, 7:30 PM
TV: FOX Sports 1
Streaming: FoxSportsGo
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM