Rex Burkhead will test Ohio State's stingy run defense.
After a rough start to the season, the Big Ten finally had something positive happen last weekend. There were no disappointing non-conference losses, while Ohio State-Michigan State and Wisconsin-Nebraska were two of the best games from a light slate of action in Week 5.
There’s plenty of intrigue on the field for this matchup, but this game also marks the return of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini to Columbus. Pelini played at Ohio State from 1987-1990 and was born in Youngstown. Although Pelini has downplayed the return to Columbus, there has to be a little extra incentive to win on Saturday night.
Even though Ohio State is ineligible to win the Big Ten crown, this is a huge game for both teams. A win over the Cornhuskers would continue to strengthen the Buckeyes’ case as the best team in the Big Ten. Nebraska scored a key win over Wisconsin last week but this is another tough test for a team that could be the best in the Legends Division.
Storylines to Watch in Nebraska vs. Ohio State
Will Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller have any help?
After watching Miller record 90 rushing attempts through the first five games, Urban Meyer and his offensive staff have to find ways to reduce the workload on their sophomore quarterback. Keeping Miller healthy is the top priority for the Buckeyes, especially if they want to make a run at an unbeaten record. However, Ohio State hasn't been able to find many weapons around him, and that task got a little tougher with running back Jordan Hall suffering a knee injury against Michigan State. Hall will be sidelined for Saturday night’s game, which forces Carlos Hyde and Bri’onte Dunn to shoulder more of the workload in the backfield. Two of Ohio State’s biggest preseason concerns – the offensive line and receiving corps – have played relatively well, so the biggest task for the Buckeyes will be to find more playmakers in the backfield to spell Miller. Although the sophomore is one of the top Heisman contenders, relying on him to have 15-20 carries a game is a lot to ask. Expect Nebraska’s defense to do all it can to keep Miller in check, while forcing Hyde or Dunn to carry the rushing attack.
Taylor Martinez vs. Ohio State’s secondary
There’s no question Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is one of college football’s most-improved players. The junior is completing 67.8 percent of his throws and has 11 touchdowns on 121 attempts. Ohio State’s secondary has been a disappointment this season, allowing 275.6 yards per game. Martinez should have opportunities to take advantage of the Buckeyes’ pass defense but also needs to make plays with his legs. The junior has 298 yards on the ground through the first five weeks of the season, which is a valuable asset against an Ohio State defense that has two of the best linemen in the nation (end John Simon and tackle Johnathan Hankins) attacking the quarterback.
Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah vs. Ohio State’s front seven
Although you never want to lose a player due to an injury, Burkhead’s absence against UCLA and Arkansas State allowed Abdullah to show he is capable of taking some of the pressure off of the senior back. The sophomore has 486 yards and five scores this season and will team with Burkhead to form one of the nation’s top running back duos. The Cornhuskers won’t find much running room against Ohio State, as the Buckeyes rank 19th nationally against the run and held Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell to 45 yards on 17 carries last week. Nebraska’s offensive line is playing well but moving Ohio State’s defensive line is no easy task. Taylor Martinez should have an opportunity to move the ball against the Buckeyes' secondary. However, the Cornhuskers can't afford to abandon the run and have Martinez throw over 35 times.
Last season’s matchup between these two teams featured 61 points and 774 total yards and considering the firepower on both sidelines, we could see similar totals on Saturday.
Nebraska is more balanced on offense than Ohio State, and its defense has played well after struggling in a 36-30 loss to UCLA. The Buckeyes’ secondary is capable of playing better than it has this year, and it’s a group that needs to be challenged by the Cornhuskers. However, Ohio State’s front four is going to be the best that Nebraska has played and establishing Burkhead and Abdullah won’t be easy.
Ohio State seems to be getting better each week under new coach Urban Meyer. However, the Buckeyes still need to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Braxton Miller. The sophomore simply won’t last all year if he has 20-25 carries a game. When Miller does run, Nebraska has to keep him contained and not allow a big play.
There’s not much that separates these two teams, so one play on special teams or a turnover could decide the outcome. Although Nebraska has more balance on offense, the Buckeyes defense will keep Martinez and Burkhead in check, which should be just enough for Ohio State to edge the Cornhuskers and move to 6-0.
Final Prediction: Ohio State 27, Nebraska 24
by Steven Lassan
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