When Urban Meyer and his staff moved on from Ohio State’s blowout win against Maryland last Saturday, he should’ve seen something fairly obvious with his team’s next opponent.
For 35 minutes, Nebraska gave Wisconsin everything it had. The Huskers got big-time defensive stops, they ran the ball and even made some nice plays in the passing game. After Nebraska intercepted an Alex Hornibrook pass and returned it for a touchdown, it was all square at 17-17 in the middle of the third quarter.
What happened next was what Meyer should’ve paid attention to.
Wisconsin had four possessions in the final 25 minutes of the game. From that point on, it had more touchdowns (3) than passes attempted (2).
The Badgers pounded away at Nebraska’s gassed defensive line. It didn’t matter that everyone in the building knew a run was coming. Jonathan Taylor did his best Melvin Gordon imitation and ran all over the Huskers to put away an easy 38-17 victory.
Was it boring? Yes. Did it take the air out of the building? You bet. Was it effective? For sure.
Was it something Ohio State could replicate with its personnel on Saturday night in Lincoln? Absolutely.
J.K. Dobbins is every bit as talented as Taylor, if not more. In terms of rushing offense, Wisconsin and Ohio State rank No. 16 and No. 18, respectively. Both have solid offensive lines, and both clearly play at their best when they’re committed to running the ball.
Wisconsin made the adjustment halfway through the third quarter. The offensive staff realized throwing against Nebraska’s secondary, even with a guy who has been extremely accurate like Hornibrook, can be risky. While J.T. Barrett’s accuracy has improved, the Huskers are plenty capable of capitalizing on one of his mistakes, too.
So why even throw the ball 25 times? Why not stay committed to the run even if things get tight like they did for Wisconsin?
Lazy analysis would suggest that Ohio State should just do what it did last year against Nebraska. After all, that turned into a 62-3 bloodbath. Surely the Buckeyes know how to handle that team a year later, right?
Well, that’s apples to oranges.
For starters, Wisconsin handed Nebraska its first home loss at night since 2008. Playing in Lincoln at night will be different animal for Ohio State. There’s also the fact that last year, OSU dominated Tommy Armstrong Jr. and eventually Ryker Fyfe after Armstrong suffered that scary injury. Both of them, of course, are vastly different quarterbacks than Tanner Lee.
The most obvious thing is that Ohio State is facing a completely different 3-4 defense under Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. The Huskers have actually been rock solid defending the pass since the second half against Oregon.
Check out some of these numbers in their last 18 quarters:
Are Kyle Bolin, Chayce Crouch and whoever plays quarterback for Northern Illinois winning a Heisman Trophy anytime soon? No, but Justin Herbert and Hornibrook were part of those 18 quarters, too.
Pass defense is clearly not a weakness for Nebraska anymore. Stopping the run for four quarters has proven to be a far more difficult task for the Huskers’ new defense. Nebraska allows 4.28 yards per rush, which is a shade worse than Rutgers.
You know, the same Rutgers team that surrendered 274 rushing yards to Ohio State a couple weeks ago.
If you’re Ohio State, how much more evidence do you need to see that there’s a clear path to victory on Saturday night? Plenty of Buckeye fans don’t want Kevin Wilson to have a conservative game plan. They want to see Barrett connecting on deep throws and breaking off big chunks of yardage.
That’s all well and good. But there’s a time and a place for that. It isn’t on Saturday night.
This should be one of those games in which Dobbins and Mike Weber do the heavy lifting. Excuse me, the Ohio State offensive line* should do the heavy lifting.
As we saw with Wisconsin, there’s nothing wrong with playing big boy football. Balance is nice, but winning is even better.
If Ohio State wants to do that and keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive, it would be foolish not to follow the Badgers’ lead.