Ohio State at Nebraska

Sports Xchange

October 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
TV: Fox Sports 1
SERIES: Ohio State leads Nebraska 4-1. The Buckeyes are 2-1 since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011.
RANKINGS: Ohio State No. 9

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Buckeyes

–QB J.T. Barrett produced 300 or more yards of total offense for the 18th time in his 42-game career last Saturday in Ohio State’s 62-14 victory over Maryland. Barrett moved into eighth place in Big Ten history with 10,670 yards of total offense and needs less than 100 yards to pass the next two on the list. The senior ranks third nationally in passing touchdowns with 16, 10th in passing efficiency and 21st in total offense (254 yards per game).

–DE Nick Bosa was a handful last week against Maryland. The sophomore had a sack and two tackles for loss among his five tackles in a dominant performance. Bosa’s strip sack led to Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker recovering the fumble and returning it for a touchdown. Bosa is disruptive force with has four sacks this season and probably would have more, but Ohio State has so much talent on the defensive line that limits Bosa’s snaps. His 10 tackles for loss are tops in the Big Ten.

–OG Matt Burrell came in last week when starter Branden Bowen suffered a broken leg against Maryland and held his own. With Bowen out for the season, Burrell is the leading candidate to take over at right guard. He has to win the job in practice this week and, if he does, his performance will be watched closely on Saturday against Nebraska.

Cornhuskers

–QB Tanner Lee’s performance last week — outside of another interception returned for a touchdown — was not bad, overall. He stood strong in the pocket, showed good awareness and made some rocket throws. Lee was also victimized by some untimely drops. He has thrown 10 interceptions this season while completing 54 percent of his passes.

–RB Devine Ozigbo became the first player since Ameer Abdullah in 2014 to rush for 100-plus yards in three straight games. With Tre Bryant’s status a huge unknown, Ozigbo has proven to be more than up to the task.

–CB Chris Jones returned to action last week, making his season debut after suffering a meniscus tear in June. It was difficult to gauge exactly how healthy Jones was in his first action back, especially considering Wisconsin wasn’t looking to make any plays through the air. He made two tackles. “I don’t think he’s ready for that full-time, all-the-time status but the ability to rotate and play four corners instead of three … is a real focus for us right now,” coach Mike Riley said.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

A matchup between two of the winningest programs in college football history normally would be a marquee date on the schedule, but Saturday night’s Ohio State-Nebraska game does not have that cache this season.

The ninth-ranked Buckeyes go into Lincoln, Neb., for the Big Ten matchup (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1) as prohibitive favorites over the Cornhuskers.

Ohio State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) has rattled off four consecutive victories after a loss at home to Oklahoma in the second week of the season. The Buckeyes won those three games in dominating fashion but, as coach Urban Meyer admits, against weaker opponents.

“They’ve been hitting on all cylinders for sure,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “Defensively, playing fast, and they’re talented and they’re well coached, and same thing offensively.”

The same can’t be said for Nebraska. Quarterback Tanner Lee has thrown a Big Ten-worst 10 interceptions, and the Cornhuskers (3-3, 2-1) have been just average on both sides of the ball, which is reflected in their .500 overall record.

Nebraska is coming off a 38-17 home loss to then-No. 9 Wisconsin in a game that was tied at 17 in the third quarter. One of Nebraska’s nonconference losses, to Northern Illinois, was the first in school history to a Mid-American Conference team.

This week, the Cornhuskers face another Top 10 opponent. The last time Nebraska played Top 10 teams back to back was in 2008 when it lost to Missouri and Texas Tech while still a member of the Big 12.

The Cornhuskers faced the Buckeyes a year ago in Columbus, and it didn’t go well for in a 62-3 loss.

“It was tough to watch,” Lee said. “I mean, obviously, they will have the same talented team as they do, as they seem to have every year. They will be quick, athletic, and strong up front. So that will be a good challenge again for us this week.”

Ohio State and Nebraska have met three times since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten, with the Buckeyes winning two. Their lone loss was in Lincoln in 2011, when they blew a 21-point lead in a 34-27 win for Nebraska.

The following year, Meyer took over as Ohio State’s coach and the Buckeyes have proved almost impossible to beat on the road in Big Ten games since then. They’re 21-1 away from home in conference player under Meyer.

A Nebraska win this year would be a significant upset, though the Cornhuskers are expected to put up a better fight that the Buckeyes’ last four opponents.

“I think about the way they’re playing right now, they’re playing at a high level since that one loss and outscoring opponents,” Riley said of Ohio State. “They’re versatile and productive offensively in almost every category, near the top (nationally) in everything. Same thing defensively, so it’s a major, major challenge for us.”

Ohio State’s offense, led by senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, is No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense and scoring offense, and is second in rushing. The Buckeyes possess multiple weapons at running back (Mike Weber, J.K. Dobbins) and at wide receiver (Parris Campbell, Binjimen Victor, K.J. Hill).

The question mark on offense this week is up front. Right guard Branden Bowen suffered a season-ending injury last week in Ohio State’s 62-14 win over Maryland. Matt Burrell finished the rest of that game, but Meyer said there’s a three-way competition to win the starting job.

“It’s wide open right now (between) Malcolm Pridgeon, Matt Burrell and Demetrius Knox,” he said.

Ohio State’s defense couldn’t have been much more dominant last week. Maryland managed to gain just 66 total yards.

Since the defense was manhandled by Oklahoma, it has been on an upward trajectory. But linebacker Jerome Baker, who returned a fumble for a touchdown against Maryland, believes the Buckeyes are only scratching the surface of their potential.

“We have so much to improve on and so much to do,” Baker said.

Nebraska will have its hands full with Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa (Big Ten-leading 10.5 tackles for loss) and company. The Buckeyes also welcome back defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones after he missed two games with an injury, and safety Erick Smith is back on the depth chart after sitting out due to disciplinary action.

Ohio State will be without cornerback Damon Arnette for the first half after he was called for targeting last week. Safety Denzel Ward also was called for targeting in the same game on a fumble-causing hit, but the Big Ten acknowledged Tuesday that the replay official erred.

That means Ward will be available against Nebraska. But Meyer was not happy about the call.

“Concerned, irate, all of the above,” he said. “It’s not the person on the field. Those are snap judgments. I still to this day don’t understand how that happens. That’s for the higher-ups to figure out. ‘Concerned’ is probably not strong enough.”