The Ohio State Buckeyes rolled into Lincoln, Neb., and straight up dominated the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a 56-14 victory. Blowout wins have been the constant theme with Urban Meyer’s bunch since the Oklahoma loss five weeks ago.
Since that loss, which was punctuated with an OU flag being planted on the 50 inside The ‘Shoe, Ohio State has gone on a John Wick-esque crusade against their opponents. Each week, the Bucks have shown signs of improvements on all fronts while also scoring 50-plus points in each of their last four games.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from the Scarlet and Gray’s win in the house of Big Red.
1. The offense is clicking on all cylinders
We can sit back all day and debate about how OSU’s offensive dominance over Nebraska is a false positive. On a few of the touchdowns passes from quarterback J.T. Barrett—and a handful of passes in general—it seemed like the Cornhuskers defense was taking a nap.
While it’s true that Nebraska has struggled this season, they held on in the first half last week against the Wisconsin Badgers, a team that is ranked higher than Ohio State. Last week, the Badgers were up 17-10 at the break against the Cornhuskers before they pulled away to a 38-17 win in Lincoln.
In comparison: Ohio State had 35 points at halftime against Nebraska.
The Buckeyes completely shucked the ‘Huskers on Saturday night. Barrett looked about as good as he’s been all season, the running game steamrolled past defenders, and the offensive line gave Barrett time and parted the defense. From a stats perspective, Barrett had another record-tying performance. The all-time leader in a slew of OSU records lobbed five touchdowns and rushed for two more inside Memorial Stadium. He also threw for 325 yards on 27-of-33 passing.
By having the passing game be efficient (and a threat), the running game had a chance to be more potent. Unlike the Oklahoma loss, where the inability to establish a passing game led to the running game being too predictable, the win against Nebraska saw J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber dart past the defense. On his third rush of the game, Dobbins broke away down the sideline for a 52-yard touchdown rush. When the clocks hit all zeros, the freshman playmaker/highlight reel had 106 yards on the ground, and four receptions for 42 yards in addition to that TD. Weber didn’t reach the endzone, but he rattled off 82 yards off 18 carries.
Between Barrett and the rushing game, they made Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco seem incompetent and unprepared. His defense gave up 633 yards of offense to Ohio State, and allowed the first eight drives to end with a touchdown. On top of that, they allowed OSU to get 41 first downs, the most ever surrendered by Nebraska in school history. Is this a product of Nebraska just being bad, or Ohio State being good?
I believe that what we saw on Saturday night was more of the Buckeyes being pretty dang good, rather than Nebraska taking part in Halloween a few weeks early and showing up as a trash can. If this was a one-off kind of performance from the OSU offense, I would be inclined to think the Cornhuskers just had a really, really bad game. However, Maryland gave up 584 yards and 62 points to the Buckeyes; Rutgers gave up 628 yards and 56 points a few weeks ago to the Scarlet and Gray.
They were suspect at best four weeks ago, but now it’s clear: Ohio State’s offense has found their groove again. If this offense shows up against Penn State, I think there is a very real chance the Buckeyes hang at least 42 points on the scoreboard.
2. The kickoff problem
Bad kicks happen every now and then. Sometimes the ball is gonna go out of bounds, sometimes you’ll give up a big return—that’s life.
However, a pattern of miscues has cropped up with Ohio State’s special teams unit. Almost like clockwork, a kick gets sent out of the playing field every game. On the opening kick against Nebraska, Blake Haubeil sent the ball out of play. The second kickoff landed at the Cornhuskers’ 33, and was fair caught.
I’ll repeat that again: the kickoff was fair caught at the 33. (For those doing the math, that means the kickoff went roughly 32 yards, which is not good.) Granted, there was some wind in Lincoln, and that may have played a supporting role for why the kickoffs weren’t traveling deep. But three kickoffs reached the end zone on the night, and two of them ended up being touchbacks. There’s a consistency problem with the kicking unit, which is bizarre.
In recent years, different aspects of the special teams unit has been wonky for the Buckeyes. Last season, mishaps played a big role in the loss at Penn State; against Michigan, missed field goals from “chip shot” distances didn’t go through, nearly dooming the win against the Wolverines; this season, it’s the kickoffs going out of bounds.
3. I don’t envy Tanner Lee (or any QB that goes up against OSU)
So we just talked about the kickoff unit spotting some yards to the opposition. Independently, that’s a problem. However, when we look at the whole system, it’s not too worrisome.
The reason why? Ohio State’s defense isn’t too keen on giving up real estate.
In the first half, Nebraska’s offense had three three-and-outs. Their QB, Tanner Lee, was held to just 96 yards passing in the first 30 minutes, and the whole offense was responsible for just 116 yards. To compare: Ohio State had 366 yards of offense in the first half—more than 3x the Cornhuskers. Oh, and they Cornhuskers had zero points in that time span, too.
Pressure on the quarterback, as well as plugging up the running holes was a de facto reason for why Nebraska couldn’t get much going in the first half.
Nick Bosa was the key guy going after Lee. The younger Bosa had two quarterback hurries (QBH) for the game, with one of them happening on a third down. Failures on third down were a theme for Nebraska; they ended up going 5-for-15 on the evening, and had an average distance of 7.1 yards. Anytime you have a third down that is beyond five yards, a pass play is more than likely getting dialed up. When your passing game isn’t doing too well to begin with, you might as well just punt the ball on third down to get it over with.
Ohio State was great on defense against Nebraska, but they weren’t perfect. Six of Lee’s passes went for “chunk” distances. The largest of the plays was the 77-yard completion to JD Spielman for a TD in the third quarter.
Since the start of the season, the defensive line has been the strong point to this Buckeye team. They continued that trend after Saturday night.
4. Right now, Ohio State is a playoff team
That’s my take and I’m willing to stand by it.
College football is a wild thing. This weekend, four top 10 teams took a loss; No. 2 Clemson, No. 5 Washington, No. 8 Washington State and No. 10 Auburn were the top programs to stumble on the road. On paper, it might’ve looked like Ohio State would’ve fit the bill to be upset.
That didn’t happen. It wasn’t even close to happening.
Let’s assume that everyone who won moves up the ranks. That puts OSU around the No. 6 ranking in the AP Poll. Being No. 6 (or even in the top-10 for that matter) is nothing to turn your nose from. However, I think that does a great injustice to the Buckeyes.
Wisconsin started the weekend in front of Ohio State, but should that be the case going into next week? Doing a side-by-side comparison, it’s a no-brainer that against the same opponent (Nebraska), the Buckeyes performed better—in fact, you could say they performed a lot better than the Badgers. On Saturday afternoon, Wisconsin struggled to put Purdue away, but ended up getting the job done, 17-9.
TCU is also in front of the Buckeyes. While the Horned frogs beat the other OSU (Oklahoma State) and West Virginia, I think it’s valid to question the strength of the Big 12. Maryland, who lost to Northwestern on Saturday, beat Texas earlier in the season. At the same time UMD-NW was happening, Texas was giving Oklahoma a run for their money in the Red River Showdown.
I think this is the best I've seen Ohio State play against a team people have heard since the 2014 season. Pretty good IMO— Matt Brown (@MattSBN) October 15, 2017
While the craziness of the season is happening around us, it feels as if the only constants are Alabama stomping on whoever comes their way, Saquon Barkley making plays for the Nittany Lions, and Ohio State racking up blowouts in dominating fashion.
It’s not possible to say, with a straight face, that Ohio State isn’t one of the four best teams in college football right now. The AP Poll may very well say they are sixth or whatever, but you cannot deny the notion that the Buckeyes have recovered from the early season loss.