Nebraska football: 5 things fans should want to see against Ohio State
Game week. It’s finally here.
Nebraska opens with Ohio State, the B1G’s elite program and College Football Playoff contender. Is it better that the Huskers play the Buckeyes early, rather than later in the season? Cases can be made for both ways of thinking.
Will Saturday’s game between these two go the way of the matchup in 2018, when Nebraska went to Columbus and lost just 36-31? Or will it be a repeat performance from last year at Memorial Stadium — a blowout by halftime?
Either way, here are 5 things I want to see from the Huskers this Saturday:
Hang tough against the run
Coaches, players, media — they all say it: To win in the B1G, defenses need to stop the run. Nebraska, for quite some time now, hasn’t consistently done that.
I want to see Nebraska’s defense hang tough in the trenches and not give up 300 yards rushing like it did in 3 games last year. Ohio State gashed the Huskers for 368 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground last season.
Yeah, that’s going to be difficult to accomplish. Nebraska’s front 7 is full of new faces. Untested faces. And it’s going up against a Heisman candidate in Justin Fields who moves just as well as he throws.
Fans want to see if redshirt freshman DL Ty Robinson (6-6, 310) is the real deal. They want to see if 6-3, 335-pound nose Damion Daniels can stay on the field longer before needing a breather. Senior JoJo Domann is great and fun to watch, but he’s about the only sure thing at the outside linebacker spot — who else will rise to the occasion at that position?
A clean game from Adrian Martinez
What do I mean by a clean game? I mean not turning the ball over and making good decisions at the helm of the offense.
Quarterbacks are always under the microscope, but Martinez’s seat is pretty dang hot right now. Fans — and from what they’ve been saying on the record, coaches, too — are intrigued with backup Luke McCaffrey and what he might be able to do. That doesn’t leave Martinez much room for error.
How many mistakes is Martinez allowed to make before fans start calling for McCaffrey? My guess is not very many. Martinez’s sophomore slump is still fresh in the minds of Husker Nation, much more than his true freshman season.
I believe Martinez’s play will resemble his 2018 form. A clean game from him doesn’t mean an upset win, though, not by a long shot. Instead, if Martinez doesn’t turn the ball over and the offense moves down the field with him under center, it’ll be a feel-good moment for the junior.
Beating Ohio State isn’t impossible. If Martinez plays a clean game, the Huskers should be competitive in this one, unlike last year’s 48-7 loss.
Get Travis Vokolek the ball
Tight ends. Nebraska has good ones and the coaches want to throw passes to them.
Nothing against Jack Stoll and Austin Allen. Both have played a lot of snaps for the Huskers and have become leaders in the program.
But Vokolek, the junior transfer from Rutgers, is the one getting NFL talk. He’s got the size at 6-6, 260 pounds, and the hands, which he flashed at times while in Piscataway:
.@RFootball opens up the scoring in East Lansing!
Travis Vokolek hauls it in, and it's 7-0 Scarlet Knights: pic.twitter.com/G35nbLSjT5
— Rutgers On BTN (@RutgersOnBTN) November 24, 2018
— Rutgers On BTN (@RutgersOnBTN) October 6, 2018
This play got called back for an ineligible receiver penalty, but Travis Vokolek made a tremendous outstretched catch: pic.twitter.com/7M5VtsoDDY
— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) October 13, 2018
Tight-end targets have been hard to come by in recent years. Everyone seems to want them, but it’s never really materialized. With a talent like Vokolek now in the fold, will he get a chance to show us what he’s got against Ohio State?
Rush for over 200 yards
With the entire offensive line returning led by senior left tackle Brenden Jaimes, as well as starting running back Dedrick Mills, I want to see Nebraska make a commitment to run the ball and eclipse 200 yards rushing.
Nebraska will likely be starting highly-touted redshirt freshman Bryce Benhart at right tackle, which I’m sure is a spot that many fans’ eyes will be watching on Saturday.
The Huskers had the 3rd best rushing offense in the B1G last season at 203 yards per game. They proved they had the ability to run the ball on the elite defenses of the conference — just look at the 273-yard performance against Wisconsin.
With Mills (and whoever gets the majority of the backup running back snaps, maybe Ronald Thompkins), Martinez and a bit of McCaffrey here and there, Nebraska’s rushing attack should be a good one. Maybe even top-of-the-B1G kind of good.
Ohio State’s defense lost 7 starters to the NFL. The Buckeyes will be fairly inexperienced in the front 7, and really green in the back end, as only corner Shaun Wade returns. Will Nebraska’s offensive line take advantage and try to run right at these new guys?
The whole Wan’Dale Robinson experience
There’s no doubt about it: Robinson is one of the most electric players in the B1G. Now that JD Spielman transferred to TCU, Robinson should focus on his new role as slot receiver and run with it.
Get him targets in the passing game. Throw him screens. Put him in motion and hand him the ball. Similar to last year, whatever needs to happen to get the ball in his hands, do it.
Will defenses be keying on Robinson? Until another Huskers receiver shows he can take the heat off Robinson, yes.
Whether that’s one of the tight ends, a receiver, or maybe true freshman Alante Brown, who’s been getting rave reviews in practice, someone needs to step up when defenses are focusing on stopping Robinson.
I’m willing to bet there will be one, or a couple. We just don’t know who yet.