On Tuesday, we previewed the Nebraska Cornhuskers and their offensive weapon in wide receiver JD Spielman. Now, let’s take a look at inside linebacker Mohamed Barry, the defensive player to watch in Saturday’s contest against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Like Spielman, Barry is a playmaker that has a high potential for causing havoc. Starting all eight games this season, the LB leads the Cornhuskers in total tackles with 75. Of those 75 takedowns, 36 of them come from solo tackles, while 39 of them were assisted. In both solo and assists, Barry is, unsurprisingly, leading his team. Back on Sept 8, in Nebraska’s first game of the season following the cancellation of their would-be opener against Akron, Barry set a career-high 12 tackles in a losing effort to Colorado. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but that Colorado team would go on to open the season 5-0, showing that Barry was in elite form the get-go.
The margin between Barry and the second leading tackler is steep; Aaron Williams, a safety, has 49 tackles this season — and as you can tell, those numbers aren’t even close. Fellow linebacker Dedrick Young II has the third most tackles on the team this season, and is right behind Williams with 47. If you’re a member of the Husker defense with aspirations of catching Barry in the tackle department, good luck; Barry is just one of three Big Ten players averaging nine tackles a game. I don’t really expect that average to drop off this weekend against Ohio State, as passes over the middle and rushes into the second line will be right in the vicinity of where Barry plays.
But tackles aren’t the only stat column that Barry is stuffing. He’s recorded 10 tackles-for-loss, amounting for 38 yards. He’s also got a pair of sacks that have accounted for 15 yards of lost offense, gaining one in each contest against Michigan and Bethune-Cookman. To top things off, he has one pass breakup and three quarterback hurries.
Earlier this season, Nebraska was pounded into another dimension by Michigan. The Wolverines defeated the Huskers, 56-10, marking the first true blowout of the Scott Frost era — which had only been up and running for three games at that point. However, Barry showed up and had one his better collegiate games, and was definitely the star in an otherwise terrible game for the Nebraska defense. He tallied 11 tackles, three for-loss in addition to the aforementioned sack. Nobody else on the team had more than six tackles against the Wolverines.
After the game, Barry spoke to the media about his effort as well as the team’s expectations. Not only is he, arguably, the best defensive player residing in Lincoln, Neb., right now, but he’s also one of the leaders. It’s no wonder that some of his career accolades include being named three times to the Tom Osborne and Brooks Berringer citizenship teams.
At the time, it seemed liked Michigan would be a good comparison to see how Nebraska would fair against the Buckeyes, however, time has unveiled a multitude of changes. The Huskers have steadily gotten better, and right after the loss to the Wolverines, held their own in a 14-point loss at home against Purdue. For Ohio State, they have taken a small decline week after week since the Penn State game, culminating in an eye-opening, 49-20 loss on the road against Purdue on Oct. 20.
Going into Saturday, what can the Scarlet and Gray do to stifle Barry and the Husker defense? A balanced attack is one way. Switching up where the ball is going — in addition to stretching the field — not only extends the defense, but creates space for the Buckeye offense. The deep ball removes Barry from the equation, but those passes have to be connected. In previous press conferences, Urban Meyer has talked about how the run-pass option has led to more run plays being cancelled in favor of passing the ball, due to defenses showing a scheme that will halt any would-be rush. Screen passes have, basically, been part of the run game for the Buckeyes. When they work, they work well; but when they are stopped, like against Purdue, things begin to stagnate on offense — and quickly.
Short yardage situations are where, I think, we’ll see Barry the most. He is second on the team in tackles-for-loss, trailing outside linebacker Luke Gifford by one. If OSU is feeling like a rush up the middle, be prepared for Barry to be right in the thick of things. Working on the offensive line’s run blocking ability has been a talking point around the Buckeye coaching staff. After a week’s worth of rest and improvements, Nebraska becomes a litmus test to see if, in fact, the Buckeye O-Line has made any progress.