If the Huskers want to shock the world, Wan'Dale Robinson will need to come up with several big plays
In the interest of full transparency, I have twice outlined how the Nebraska Cornhuskers can beat Ohio State since Scott Frost's arrival. Yes, the Buckeyes steamrolled the Huskers 48-7 last year. However, the Big Red came ever so close during their 2018 visit to Columbus, losing 36-31. Naturally, the third time has to be the charm.
Let's go over how Frost and his merry band of misfits invade The Shoe yet again and not only beat the spread but come away with a victory.
When Nebraska is on Offense
1. Play mix and match
Adrian Martinez gets the start at quarterback, but that doesn't mean he needs to be the only one who sees the field. Luke McCaffrey reportedly gave him all he could handle while jockeying for the position this fall. Considering both players' athleticism, swapping them out or lining them up on the same play could be a fun wrinkle.
This is a game Frost may have used Wan'Dale Robinson as more of a run threat in 2019. However, depth at running back is substantial, and he's needed to help make a significant difference at his usual DUCK-R spot. Instead, Robinson and Brody Belt could complement each other across various formations along with just about anyone on Nebraska's wide receiver three-deep.
2. Force the Buckeyes to give individuals proper respect
Obviously, Ohio State will do everything possible to rattle Martinez both physically and mentally in the hopes of knocking him back into his 2019 ways. However, it's paramount that the Huskers' offensive line gives him time to sync up with the Big Red receiving crew. Easier said than done against a nasty front four and downright nightmarish linebacking corps.
Regardless, Nebraska cannot allow the Buckeye front seven to get enough penetration that results in stonewalling their impact players from all angles. The pressure will be on tackles Brenden Jaimes and Bryce Benhart to slow them down.
3. More screens, fewer swing passes
Over two years, Frost's screen calls have resulted in improved results. With the addition of athletes like Robinson and familiarity with downfield blocking, these can be used to demand the aforementioned respect.
Meanwhile, Frost has been developing swing passes over his first two years, and it's a major factor in his offense running at optimal levels. These help to set up the run-pass option threats that his backfield thrives off of.
However, these plays have suffered mightily from overall ineffective blocking and inaccurate throws thus far. Having guys like Kade Warner and Levi Falck on the perimeter may help this important factor of offensive success move forward, but the return on investment doesn't seem especially high in this game.
4. Rack up chunk plays through the air
If there's one area of potential weakness on the Buckeye defense, it's the secondary. As new starters settle in, Nebraska must challenge what inexperience Ohio State has using their speediest options, green though several may be.
Drawing the Buckeyes' terrorizing front seven close and encouraging blitzes — as insane at that might sound — could actually pay dividends for Matt Lubick's pass-snaggers as the game moves along.
When Nebraska is on Defense
1. Slug it out with Ohio State's wide receivers
Despite the long layoff both teams faced, Justin Fields having a bad day — whatever that may look like for one of college football's best quarterbacks — can't be counted on. This goes double considering the practical titanium curtain of an offensive line in front of him. What Nebraska can do to make life more difficult is mug his wideouts.
This means Cam Taylor-Britt and Dicaprio Bootle getting all up in the grills of Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jameson Williams. If Nebraska's defensive backs can stick to Buckeye receivers like glue, helping to somewhat negate Fields's tremendous passing ability, it's a major step in the right direction.
2. Key in on slowing Trey Sermon and Master Teague III
Not only does Ohio State's offensive line serve to keep Fields's jersey clean, but they're primed to clear the way for Teague and Oklahoma graduate transfer Sermon. The former racked up 77 yards on 12 carries while supplementing J.K. Dobbins in Lincoln last year. Nebraska can't afford to allow Sermon to set up Nebraska's defense and have Teague knock it down.
It's a tall order for a brand new defensive front and a linebacker unit that hasn't seen much success since Frost arrived. To at least slow the Ohio State run game, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander may opt for a four-man defensive front more often with Collin Miller and two of the heaviest outside hitters available on each of his hips.
3. Rack up a plus-two turnover margin
Nebraska cannot win this game without having the advantage in turnovers, and being up by two still may not be enough. It'll be incredibly difficult to throw Fields off of his game, but Taylor-Britt has shown he's capable of reading quarterbacks' tendencies.
Once the Buckeyes take to the ground, ripping at Sermon and Teague's mitts will be crucial if they're stood up. This is a big ask, as Ohio State rarely makes mistakes; they boasted a plus-nine margin in 2019 alone.
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