With ESPN’s College Gameday making the trip to Lincoln, Neb., for the Ohio State Buckeyes road showdown against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, it’ll be one of the bigger homes games in recent memory—and especially for the Scott Frost era—for the ‘Huskers.
Last season, the first signature win for Frost since returning to his alma mater nearly was against OSU. In a 36-31 loss in Columbus, freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez showed signs of being the future of the program. He had two rushing touchdowns against the Buckeyes, but also contributed an early fumble. With a season past, Martinez and Cornhuskers are looking for some redemption, and there’s no better way to get it than at home in primetime.
Taking a closer look at his numbers from last season’s contest, they weren’t bad. Going 22-of-33 for 266 yards, it’s not like the offense couldn’t get it going. Stanley Morgan led the receiving brigade with a seven catch, 87 yard afternoon in the ‘Shoe. With Morgan moving on to the professional ranks, JD Spielman becomes the main target for Martinez.
Already this season, Spielman leads the team with 383 yards and 18 receptions. He’s a top-five receiver all-time in school history, and will only climb the ranks as the season moves on. Behind Spielman is WanDale Robinson, who has 17 receptions and two TDs but 195 yards. While Robinson has just one more receiving score than Spielman, it’s not hard to figure out who has the bigger “chunk” yard ability.
Spielman is a shifty receiver, and will test the OSU secondary. Jeffrey Okudah has improved his tackling, and by virtue, has improved his ability to stop big plays from fully developing. If Okudah can meet Spielman at the line of scrimmage on screens, or pull him down coming off a slant route, damage can be minimized. If Spielman can get a little space, the Cornhuskers could become the biggest problem the Buckeyes have faced all season. Granted, Ohio State has only played four games, and have run away in all four of them.
In Nebraska’s four games, they’ve lost one of them (Colorado) in overtime, and had to mount a fourth quarter comeback to defeat Illinois on the road. Colorado was a case of blowing a 17-0 lead, but on the other hand, it was a road game against a former Big 12 foe. Not giving them an excuse for letting that game slip away, but just giving some background. Nebraska’s defense faulted later (we’ll talk about that in a different piece) and the offense/special teams couldn’t execute in the extra period.
Offensive linemen may be a position the midwest can produce absolute goliaths. Multiple 300-pounders are on the frontlines, and even with that weight advantage, they will have their hands full in protecting Martinez from Chase Young. Nearly 10 sacks before the month of September closes, Young is gonna get to Martinez on Saturday. The question is how many times he does get to him. Colorado got six (!) sacks, and the Illini got two. Martinez could summon the power and ability of Tommy Frazier, but if the likes of Young and blitzers come crashing in, it’ll all be for not.
Grudge matches are interesting. I firmly believe Frost has been preparing for this game since fall camp began, and especially with the lead up into Illini week. At the same time, he needs to. This Ohio State team is a whole different machine than what he saw last season. The game plan can be great, but the offense has to put points on the board. Justin Fields and the Buckeye offense will score points, so that means the Cornhuskers offense has to do the same. Spielman is a very viable option to catch the ball, but the OSU defense knows that. This will be the stingiest defense Nebraska has faced to this point, and, arguably, may be the toughest defense they face all season—Wisconsin is the other team that has a defense that can grind you down.
It’ll come down to Martinez. I expect Marcus Washington and Dedrick Mills to get some carries, but if Martinez has to pick up a few yards on the ground to keep the drive alive, he’ll have to do it. The Ohio State defense has put together masterclass performances at forcing three and outs. Nebraska gets three of four of those on Saturday night, their backs will be up against the wall.