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5 things learned from Ohio State’s triumph at Nebraska

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In front of a primetime audience, the Buckeyes put together a College Football Playoff worthy performance.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

We knew the Ohio State Buckeyes were going into their first night time contest on Saturday. We knew that the Nebraska Cornhuskers were a formidable foe, a Big Ten West division squad that could trip up the Bucks—just like Iowa and Purdue in past seasons. We also knew that the ‘Huskers were a good team on the up and up. And we also knew that OSU was a very good team on both sides of the ball.

Vegas had the Buckeyes as, roughly, 17-point favorites. That’s a respectable margin, especially in a road game.

What we did not know was how dominant of a performance Ryan Day’s program was about to put on inside Memorial Stadium. For 60 minutes, the Cornhuskers had no answers. No answer to Justin Fields and the passing game. No answer to J.K. Dobbins, Master Teague and Fields in the rushing game. And no answer to getting around the Buckeye defense consistently.

In a game that drew a national television audience, the Buckeyes put the Big Ten and college football world on notice: they are a real contender not only for the College Football Playoff, but the national title.

Forty-eight straight points were tallied on the scoreboard before Nebraska finally scored their lone touchdown of the night. Avoiding the shutout, the Cornhuskers couldn’t avoid the biggest loss for a team hosting ESPN’s College Gameday. With the masterclass performance in the books, and Michigan State on the horizon, let’s take a look at five things we learned from this fifth OSU win of the season.


Mr. Big Catch

With the bright lights of Memorial Stadium turned on, OSU defensive back Jeffrey Okudah put together a career performance in the limelight.

Having multi-interception games hasn’t happened in a while for the Buckeyes. In fact, it’s been a little more than three years since the last instance—and that was against a non-conference opponent.

Okudah got his first career interception last week against Miami (Ohio), and now doubled his career total in 15 minutes of game time at historic Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

I may not be a finance guy at the moment, but if you had to invest on a future NFL Draft worthy defensive back, look no further than Okudah. His pass defense has gotten better, and more importantly, his reception halting abilities is among the best in college football. In the first quarter, he stopped Maurice Washington right at the point of reception. We saw his potential a few weeks ago against Cincinnati, where a reception at the line of scrimmage by the Bearcats was met with Okudah putting the kibosh on a big play.

With MSU up next, Okudah could be primed for another big game under the bright lights. Brian Lewerke and the Spartan offense are coming off a 300-yard passing Saturday against Indiana. Wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. led Michigan State with 117 yards and two TDs, so Okudah’s responsibilities may be to stop Stewart in his tracks next week.


Synergy

It wasn’t quite a balanced attack, but it was a very effective one. OSU had 212 yards in the air, courtesy of Fields, and 368 yards on the rushing attack.

Dobbins led the way on the ground with 24 carries and 177 yards. Both Master Teague and Fields had 12 carries each, and had similar yardage; Teague ended with 77 yards and a pair of scores, while Fields had 72 yards and one TD. Oh, and Marcus Crowley got in on the rushing with four carries for 45 big ones.

Those rushing numbers are absurd. Rush defense was not working for Nebraska. At the same time, the pass defense also was sputtering. While none of the Buckeye receivers eclipsed the 70-yard mark in reception yards, seven receivers made effective catches. The trio of K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Garrett Wilson all scored touchdowns, while Hill, Mack and Chris Olave had a multi-catch night.

Fields did a ton of damage without throwing the ball 25 times. Completing 15-of-21 passes, the Buckeye QB was averaging 10.1 yards per pass and had a QB rating of 99.

When both components of the offense are working, I have no idea how you’d stop it. And then add in the beautifully designed play calls like this, and it’s mission impossible to stop the Buckeyes:

This offense is evolving by the week. Great news for OSU, and bad news for everyone else that has OSU on the schedule. In the same way a CEO is kept up at night thinking of what can/could destroy the company, opposing head coaches will be kept up at night trying to find a solution to stop the Fields-led Buckeye offense. So far, five coaches have come up with plans, and all five have come nowhere near stopping the juggernaut.

In the first half this season, OSU is outscoring opponent 173-22. If Mark Dantonio’s Spartans can’t get points in the first half, next week’s primetime clash could be a clunker by halftime.


A defensive showstopper

Cornhusker QB Adrian Martinez had a rough night under center. The Buckeye defense did not relent, and caused all sorts of problems for the sophomore in all four quarters. Martinez ended the game 8-of-17 for 47 yards and three interceptions. Okudah’s two picks, Jordan Fuller’s one diving pick, and four sacks all added to the rough outing.

Defensive end Chase Young only got one sack, extending his sack streak to six game. Young continues to leads the team in sacks this season, going into Michigan State week with 8.0. Some believed he had a chance at getting 10 sacks before September ended. While he didn’t hit that mark before the month ended, there’s almost a certain chance he’ll hit it before October comes to a close.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Nebraska
Derailed Redemption: Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez ended Saturday’s game with a 3.4 QB rating.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

JD Spielman, Wan’Dale Robinson and Maurice Washington were expected to be x-factors for Nebraska against Ohio State. All three were shut down on Saturday night. Washington had nine yards on four carries and 10 receiving yards on two receptions. Robinson had just one catch for eight yards. And Spielman, arguably their best catcher, had one catch for just seven yards.

It was supposed to be a redemption game for Martinez, who nearly pulled off the upset last season in Columbus. Instead, his redemption game became a nightmare.

More often than not, recent contests between Ohio State-Nebraska have been of the blowout variety. All time, OSU is now 7-1 against the Cornhuskers, and have now won twice in Lincoln since the Joe Bauserman game of 2011. Maybe it’s absolution for Bauserman’s 1-of-10 night in ‘11 and Taylor Martinez leading the Nebraska comeback against the Bucks. I dunno what the college football overseers determine, but whatever it is, it feels like the Cornhuskers have had more bad/terrible games against the Buckeyes than any other Big Ten team.


Wilson doing the usual

Even though he’s only getting a few chances here and there, Garrett Wilson is making the most out of the opportunities. A one catch effort against Cincinnati led to a TD. Then against Miami (OH), Wilson made another TD grab—and another highlight reel worthy reception.

Then on Saturday, he did it again. This time, it was a triple foot tap in the corner of the end zone for his only catch (and score) of the game.

Wilson only has eight catches for 77 yards this season, but three of those hauls have been for scores. He still needs time to develop, but the early prognosis is that Wilson is going to be the next great WR to wear the scarlet and gray.

The question now is what will he do next week against MSU? How many SportsCenter worthy catches will he make against a stingy Spartans’ defense?


Ohio State has entered the chat

At the beginning of the season, OSU was an outsider in the CFP picture. A consistent four of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma carried throughout the preseason prediction pools.

If anyone from the Big Ten was headed to the playoff, preseason belief pointed to the team in Ann Arbor, Mich. Now that September is coming to a close, the Wolverines’ chances of making the national semifinals is all but closed after getting humiliated by Wisconsin on the road last weekend. Now, the Wolverines aren’t completely out of the picture, and could make a case for the playoff if they win out. However, after their close call with Army, and Penn State, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State still on the schedule, the UM dream of defeating all those remaining teams is something a genie in a bottle would be hard pressed to grant.

Now, with five games of data points, the Buckeyes are clearly the top team in the Big Ten East. Wisconsin may have come close to slipping up against Northwestern, but they are an undefeated team that has a major victory under their belt.

Both OSU and Wiscy are top-10 teams in the country. In the eyes of some college football pundits, the Buckeyes are not only a top four team, but the top team.

Fox Sports’ Joel Klatt put Day’s program at the top over, with Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma following. For some, Clemson’s one-point survival at North Carolina has upended the Tigers-Crimson Tide stranglehold at the top of the college football mountain.

ESPN College Gameday co-host and football color commentator Kirk Herbstreit also put the Buckeyes at the top of his CFP four after Saturday’s 41-point victory in Lincoln.

There is a ton of football left to played, and over the next two months, we will see with certainty who the contenders (and pretenders) are.

But right now, any doubts about Day being able to lead the program have gone away.