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5 things learned from Ohio State’s too close for comfort win against Nebraska

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The Buckeyes finally balanced out the offense, and had J.K. Dobbins break out for a 163-yard day. What else did we see against the Cornhuskers?

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the season, nothing comes easy. The Ohio State Buckeyes saw that firsthand on Saturday, as they held off the Nebraska Cornhuskers for a 36-31 victory inside The Horseshoe.

But, things could’ve been both a little easy and a lot harder for the Bucks. With two weeks to iron out the issues on both sides of the ball, OSU seemed to show some improvements. However, when facing a 2-6 program like Nebraska, the improvements should’ve been more resounding on the field. Things could’ve gotten really worse if the Cornhuskers had an experienced quarterback. With a freshman in Adrian Martinez, the visiting Huskers made errors on offense that cost them the game. If Purdue’s QB David Blough was under center instead of Martinez, Scott Frost and Nebraska would’ve had their third win of the season.

Nonetheless, Ohio State got the win and improves to 8-1. A Big Ten Championship appearance and College Football Playoff berth are still on the table—so not all is lost. Let’s take a look at five things we learned from this latest victory and see how the Buckeyes will improve going forward.

It’s a balancing act

The balanced offense was something Urban Meyer wanted his team to have. In weeks past, it’s been a case of heavy air-raid offense because the Bucks have, arguably, the best passer in school history with Dwayne Haskins.

Saturday showed off the power of the balanced approach. Haskins had all 252 passing yards, while J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber combined for 254 yards on the ground. To get those 254 rushing yards, the offensive line blocked better, but that wasn’t them main reason for why the rush worked. The strategy on the ground changed.

Dobbins led the team with 23 carries, while Weber had only nine. But, those nine Weber handles were averaging 10.1 yards per pop. Weber may have not scored a touchdown, but he put OSU in a position for success.

Dobbins scored three times and ended the game with 163 yards. That’s the most yards Dobbins has gotten this season in a game, and it marks the second time this season that he’s eclipsed a 100-yard afternoon. This game was also a highlight for Weber; his 91 yards are the second-most this season, only falling to his 186-yard performance in Week 1 against Oregon State.

If there was an observable improvement since the Purdue loss, the run game would be it. Meyer noted in his post-game press conference that it was something they worked on over the bye week.

We worked ad nauseam at that. The amount of time that we spent at that was over the top, and I felt the line of scrimmage change.

Even if it was an over-the-top time sink, it paid off. One-dimensional teams won’t be able to keep conference and playoff dreams alive in deep November. The elite teams have to have a functional run and pass game. Ohio State is getting there with the rush, and even if the pass game wasn’t as sharp as it could’ve been against Nebraska, we know what it can do when it works.

Also, the offensive line is doing what they can in the absence of Brady Taylor and Branden Bowen. Both guys are in the process of becoming game-ready, and if they get there in the next couple weeks, will that be enough to really open the floodgates for Weber and Dobbins?

Having Dobbins as the main carrier, and Weber as the occasional, run-them-over rusher is what should’ve been happening all season. Weber can get a big chunk rush that wears down the defense, and Dobbins can go in a flatten them out even more with his speed. Hopefully, we’ll see more of this for the remainder of the season.

(Please don’t) play it, Sam

Unlike the film Casablanca, where Ingrid Bergman’s character (Ilsa Lund) asks Dooley Wilson’s character (Sam) to play ‘As Time Goes By’ on the piano, here’s hoping that the Buckeye defense doesn’t give up big plays next week to Michigan State.

It was more of what we’ve grown accustomed to on Saturday: giving opposing offenses momentum via chunk pickups. Martinez had five completions that went for 15 yards or more, and the Cornhuskers had five rushes that went for 10 yards or more.

Out of the gate, Nebraska was picking up yards. Their first drive went 12 plays, 75 yards for a touchdown, and featured a few plays that went beyond 10 yards. Spotting teams some confidence isn’t a great approach, and it didn’t come back to haunt OSU in games earlier this season (e.g. TCU, Minnesota, Indiana and Nebraska) because they are the more talented squad.

Martinez is a freshman and—inside one of the toughest stadiums in the country—was able to make plays that kept the Huskers in the game. If he didn’t make the backwards pass that led to a fumble recovery by OSU’s Jonathon Cooper, this game could’ve been a Nebraska victory.

Playing at home has helped the Buckeyes, especially the last three conference games. But when they go on the road, they’ve had a tough time getting the atmosphere under control. Penn State was a problem, and Purdue ended up being a big loss. Spartan Stadium is right on top of the sidelines, so expect the fans to be going at it the whole game. If MSU can get things going with their offense, I don’t know how Ohio State will be able to get any momentum going.

Stopping big plays from being completed is how you stop momentum. Through nine games, OSU hasn’t developed any resemblance of a plan to stop these back-breaking plays. So I expect Sparty to be able to get something to work next week. We know those plays will impact the game, but will it lead to a Michigan State upset of Ohio State? Whatever Mark Dantonio does, Urban Meyer and the Bucks seem to play toward that style, rather than the other way around. If the Buckeyes play down to the game Michigan State wants them to play, it could be a long afternoon in East Lansing.

Making the most with snaps you get

Brendon White and Keandre Jones are two names you probably weren’t familiar with prior to Saturday’s game. But by the final whistle, you’re probably wondering why they haven’t seen the field more this season.

Jones had a momentum shifting play early, as he blocked a Nebraska punt—leading to a safety.

While that block was the only thing Jones had in the stat column, it made a difference. Throughout the afternoon, in front of 104,245 in attendance, a couple other punts came close to being blocked.

Brendon White filled in for safety Jordan Fuller after the targeting call, and did serious work. White tied linebacker Malik Harrison for most tackles (13) amongst Buckeye defenders, and led Buckeye defenders in solo tackles with eight. On top of that, the sophomore had two tackles-for-loss.

To make championship pushes, guys have to step up. But, it’s not the stars of the team that have to step up; it’s the guys off the bench who get those rare opportunities to play—and end up making the most out of it.

White’s game was so impressive, that I’d seriously consider rotating him into the game plan next week against the Spartans. On special teams, I’d do the same thing with Jones, but would toy with the idea of putting him on the opposite side of where he was today, since teams may be looking for him. Either way, these two played a huge role in the Buckeyes getting the win in Week 10.

Penalties went down, so that’s a good thing

Even though Fuller got tossed for a targeting penalty in the first half, there weren’t a ton of flags against the Buckeyes overall. Of all the weeks to have a penalty decrease, this was the week to have it.

On offense, only three penalties were called, with two of them being accepted. Wide receiver Binjimen Victor had an offensive pass interference call against him in the first quarter, but a defensive pass interference call a couple plays later cancelled everything out. That would end up being an important drive, as the Buckeyes scored a touchdown. The other offensive penalty was a false start by Weber in the second quarter, which helped OSU to a three-and-out.

Defensively, there were only four accepted penalties (six were called) against the Buckeyes. None of them happened on third down, and outside of the Fuller targeting call, were either offsides/encroachment—totaling 11 penalty yards.

Six total penalties for 64 yards is not a bad day. However, the offsides/false start calls are fixable, and could be the difference maker in close contests. Bouncing off the last point about momentum: giving free yards is another bad way to let teams stay in games. Especially next week, you don’t want to give Dantonio and his squad any more chances than you have to.

Haskins still setting records

It had to happen at some point. Haskins finally had a game where he didn’t come close to shattering a single-game school record. On top of the 252 yards, he was a modest 18-of-32 passing, with a couple touchdowns and an interception added to the box score.

For really the first time all season, he looked like a normal quarterback.

However, that didn’t stop him from breaking an OSU season record. The 18 completions brought him to 242 for the year, which is now a new single-season record. J.T. Barrett was the previous holder with 240 completions set just last year.

The scary part is that there are three more regular season games left for Haskins, and the chance of two (and maybe even three) more games in the postseason.

If Ohio State keeps up a balanced offense, we’ve probably seen the last of his 400-yard, videogame like performances for the year. But, as long as he has Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Johnnie Dixon, and Victor in the fold, this is still a highly vaunted receiving corps that can break out a big reception at any given moment.