For the second game in a row, the Ohio State Buckeyes’ defense will have the task of stopping a talented wide receiver. Even though the Nebraska Cornhuskers are struggling this season at 2-6, they have a speedy and shifty pass-catcher in JD Spielman, the nephew of Ohio State legend Chris Spielman.
Already this season, Spielman has 53 receptions. He's just the third player in Husker history to have multiple 50-catch campaigns, which is amazing to think about considering the history that Nebraska has on the gridiron.
When OSU has struggled, it's been largely in these primetime, nightfall kickoffs. This weekend may be a very unwelcomed (and uneasy) experience for Buckeye Nation, as the Scott Frost-coached program, like Purdue, has multiple weapons on the receiving end.
Spielman will be the main focus of the secondary, but Stanley Morgan Jr. is in the equation, too. Last season, the duo was the most proficient in Nebraska history in terms of receiving, gobbling 1,816 yards in total. Morgan led the 2017-18 campaign with 986 yards, while Spielman had 830. This time around, both are once again climbing up the history books, with Spielman leading the way — albeit not by much. Only two Ws may be in the win column right now in the first year of Frost, but he's kept the wide receiving duo in the forefront of the offensive balance.
Spielman has 686 yards receiving, while Morgan has 638. With both as a threat, OSU can’t afford to over commit to either receiver on passing plays. This is where one-on-one scenarios will probably happen.
If Spielman is one receiver that the Bucks decide to clamp down on, and the pass ends up going over to Morgan, you have to hope that whomever is covering Morgan brings him done by himself — and it'll probably have to happen in space. In OSU’s first loss of the season, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm designed a game plan that stripped away the remaining mystique to Ohio State's claim to being “Defensive Back University,” for this year at least.
Spreading the field worked against the Buckeye defense, and as momentum was gathered, it seemed that Boilermaker WR Rondale Moore was made of teflon — OSU defenders were lucky to get a hand on him, let alone bring him down to the ground.
Already, Spielman has enough highlights from this season to form a mid-season reel.
Nebraska doesn’t have Moore, but the combination of Spielman and Morgan might be the best alternative. But, something the Huskers do have, like Purdue, is that they come into their matchup against Ohio State with momentum.
One more loss, and the Huskers won’t be bowling — unless some miracle occurs where they fill the spot for a team who's ineligible because of academics. In a way, this Saturday's game will be their bowl game; and for the heck of it, you might as well call it their national championship game, too. Expectations were high this season for Frost, and then things quickly fell apart.
Regardless of how much talent was/wasn't left on the roster, going 0-6 at a school like Nebraska is a no-no. Even though a few of those losses were close, they still count. Beating Minnesota a couple of weeks ago — and convincingly — showed that Frost finally has found some solid footing in his first season, and walloping Bethune-Cookman this past Saturday gave them a two-game winning streak before taking on the last, truly big game on the schedule.
If we're being honest, everyone wants to beat the Ohio States and Michigans of the world. It’s not a wonder that Iowa and Purdue have beaten some great OSU teams over the past couple of years, only to come crashing back down to earth after scoring the upset.
Teams play up against the best of the best. But, for the Hawkeyes last year, and the Boilermakers two weeks ago, players stepped up. For Nebraska to pull off the upset, someone has to rise to the occasion.
All eyes will be on Morgan, who has real potential to be the all-time Husker reception and receiving yards leader by the time the 2018-19 campaign ends. Spielman is coming off of a freshman All-American season, and is building up his profile as the next great receiver to spend his college days in Lincoln, Neb.
With players getting healthy over the bye week, the Buckeye frontline will cause pressure on freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez. Already this season, we’ve seen frosh QBs wilt under the duress inside The Horseshoe — all of them coming from Big Ten programs. Rutgers’ Artur Sitkowski and Minnesota’s Zack Annexstad both had rough Saturday afternoons against Ohio State.
Against Purdue, Martinez went 25-of-42, with 10 completions going to Spielman for 135 yards. Against Wisconsin, Martinez went 24-of-42, and found Spielman for nine receptions (on 15 targets) and a whopping 209 yards. Since then, Stanley has been the main reception leader the past two weeks (Minnesota and Bethune-Cookman), and that could be to balance things out before taking on Ohio State.
For the Buckeyes, the approach to stopping Spielman rests in stopping the QB. The defensive line is one of the strongest things OSU has going for it, and forcing Martinez into throws before he’s ready is one way to ensure the WR corps don’t get the ball at the intended time.
I would say the theory to stopping Purdue’s David Blough and Moore should be what’s used here, however, that plan didn’t work out all too well for the Buckeyes. With an extra week to prepare, Ohio State should be firing on all cylinders. But, fixing wholesale strategies like approach angles and form tackling takes time. We should see some improvements this weekend from the Bucks’ secondary, but expect Spielman to still make some plays.
The question becomes: how many big plays will Spielman be able to make?
On Monday, Meyer was asked about the super sophomore, and a had a few good things to say:
Oh, just playmaker, speed, he’s having a great year.
Let’s see if Meyer and Buckeyes have the formula to stopping this playmaker, and to get back on track for the Big Ten crown.