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What we learned in Ohio State’s 52-17 beatdown of Nebraska

The Buckeyes began their 2020 season with a relatively easy victory over the Huskers in Columbus.

Nebraska v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

We didn’t know if this day would ever come, but alas, here we are!

The Ohio State Buckeyes played their first game of the year on Saturday, facing off against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. There was an unfamiliar sense of unity between these two teams fighting it out in The Shoe, as there is mutual respect among the pair of Big Ten foes as the most vocal entities trying to resurrect this season. The sense of camaraderie was quickly put aside upon kickoff, as there was now a game to be won.

After a slow start by the Buckeyes, Ryan Day and crew handled business, taking down Scott Frost and the Huskers 52-17 to open the new campaign with a win. Justin Fields was exactly as advertised, throwing for 276 yards on 20-of-21 passing with another 54 yards on the ground and three total TDs. Ohio State’s defense really struggled for a lot of the afternoon, but a pair fumbles by Nebraska allowed the Bucks to cruise to victory in Week 1.

Ohio State not immune to the slow start

It’s a trend we have seen all across the college football landscape in this weird, pandemic-shortened season. Even the best teams in the country have gotten off to slow starts in games early in the new campaign — especially on the defensive side of the ball. Ohio State was certainly no different in following this trend.

Nebraska’s offense got off to an incredibly fast start, making it look rather easy as they marched down the field and scored a touchdown on their opening possession, aided by a long 47-yard option run from backup QB Luke McCaffrey. Adrian Martinez waltzed in on the keeper one play later, and quickly the Cornhuskers led 7-0.

The Buckeye offense looked a little slow coming out of the gates as well. Following a run for no gain by Master Teague and a sack of Justin Fields, Ohio State was faced with a 3rd-and-long. They would get some of it back, but were faced with an early 4th-and-5. Ryan Day elected to go for it, and it was the right call as Garrett Wilson converted. The Bucks would go on to punch it in with Teague to tie it up a 7-7.

Wilson in the slot: TROUBLE

This offseason, Ohio State lost a ton of talent at wide receiver. They’ll miss guys like Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor, but the biggest loss in that group was of course slot receiver K.J. Hill. Finishing his Buckeye career with 201 receptions, he surpassed David Boston’s record of 191 to leave Columbus with the school record for catches in a scarlet and gray uniform. Hill was a big part of Ohio State’s offense, catching 57 passes for 636 yards and 10 TDs a year ago.

This season, the Buckeyes look to replace Hill with second-year wide receiver Garrett Wilson. Wilson was phenomenal as a freshman, catching 30 balls for 432 yards and five touchdowns. Could he make the necessary leap to fill the huge shoes left by Hill in a critical role for this offense?

Well, those questions were answered in the first quarter. After hauling in a pair of catches for 38 yards on Ohio State’s opening drive, Wilson made perhaps the biggest play of the first half. Burning his man over the middle, Justin Fields dropped a perfect dime into Wilson’s hands for a 42-yard TD to give OSU its first lead of the afternoon.

The spectacular afternoon for the Buckeyes’ new slot receiver continued until the final whistle, as he finished Saturday’s action with seven catches for 129 yards and the long TD.

The two-RB system is not ideal

I don't mind the splitting of carries between two running backs if its done situationally, but I don't agree with the way Ohio State is handling it. We saw a similar system a few years ago when the team tried to rotate J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, and it did not work out as well as people had hoped. At least early, it seems to be a similar scenario brewing for this Buckeyes offense.

Trey Sermon and Master Teague are two different style runners. Teague is more of the power back, and Sermon is more of your breakaway speed guy. By rotating the RBs in series by series instead of situationally, you are not using the two guys to the best of their abilities. Multiple times in the first half Ohio State was faced with 3rd-and-1 with Sermon in the backfield, but elected not to bring in the power back, and it did not work out.

Sermon finished as the team’s leading rusher, padding the stat sheet late as he finished with 55 yards on 11 carries. Fields was right behind him with 54 yards on 15 carries, followed by Teague with 12 carries for 41 yards and two scores. Steele Chambers actually looked perhaps the best of the Buckeye RBs in limited action, picking up 32 yards on just four touches.

Justin Fields is good at football

After his unbelievable season a year ago, the expectations for Justin Fields heading into 2020 were astronomical. As a first-year starter in 2019, Fields threw for almost 3,300 yards with 41 TD passes to just 3 INTs, while also rushing for 484 yards and an additional 10 scores. With how good he was in his first season in Columbus, could he really improve upon himself in year two?

The first half was a good indication that he certainly hasn’t lost a step. Fields threw just one incomplete pass in the first 30 minutes of play, and that one incompletion was a potential touchdown that was knocked out of the hands of Chris Olave. He ended up with 187 yards and a TD on 12-of-13 passing heading into the break.

Not just a pocket-passer, Fields was making the defense pay with his legs as well. He showed off that speed and elusiveness on the team’s first drive of the second half, spinning his way around a defender en route to a 17-yard TD run.

Fields was phenomenal all game long, completing 20-of-21 passes for 276 yards and three total touchdowns.

Huge holes on defense

Ohio State’s defense was certainly not up to snuff in game one — especially against the run. The Silver Bullets were getting seriously gouged on the ground game, with Nebraska’s entire offense basically being comprised of read-option plays. The linebackers were playing out of position, tackles were being missed, and it seemed a lot like a certain crowd-favorite middle linebacker specifically was struggling to make the correct read.

When all was said and done, the Buckeyes allowed a total of 217 rushing yards — more than they allowed in any game last season. Adrian Martinez himself racked up 77 yards on the ground — compared to his 105 through the air — as the Achilles heel for the Buckeyes was that read-option; backup QB Luke McCaffrey ran for a team-high 87 yards. Ohio State made up for some of their issues by forcing two fumbles, but as a whole, the defense was average at best.

It is entirely possible that this Nebraska offense will be better than expected this year, as the Huskers did actually manage to put up the second-most yards rushing of any team against OSU last season with 184. However, the Silver Bullets will definitely have to sure things up before their big matchup against Penn State next week, as the effort they got on Saturday will certainly not cut it in Happy Valley.

Blocking... surprisingly just okay?

Ohio State’s offensive line was built up to be one of the best in the country heading into the new campaign. The returning starters — Wyatt Davis, Thayer Munford, and Josh Myers — were all awesome a year ago, and the two empty spots have been filled by five-star prospects in Harry Miller and Nicholas Petit-Frere. On paper, they should have been dominant against a Nebraska front replacing a ton of last year’s starters.

That wasn’t exactly the case on Saturday. It’s kinda nit-picky to talk about any O-line struggles, as, for the most part, the blocking was solid, but it looks like they went through a bit of growing pains to start the year. Fields was sacked four times — which is partially the fault of the QB trying to extend some plays longer than he should — and the Huskers tallied up seven tackles for loss as the OSU run game was stymied much of the afternoon.

Offensive lines take some time to gel, and I wouldn’t say it is a concern for this team moving forward with how good the offense looked otherwise. There is too much talent along this front five for them to be anything less than great.