ANALYSIS: 5 things to know about Ohio State’s season-opening win over Nebraska

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Justin Fields was nearly perfect for Ohio State against Nebraska

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Ohio State overcame some shaky moments early to wallop Nebraska 52-17 in their 2020 season opener.

ExploreGame recap

Here are five things to know from the game:

1. In his 2020 season debut, Justin Fields looked like a player intent on taking advantage of the opportunity to play after Ohio State’s junior quarterback was among the most vocal players in the effort to get the Big Ten football season reinstated for the fall.

Fields was nearly flawless in the first half, completing12 of 13 passes for 187 yards as No. 5 Ohio State built a 24-14 half-time lead against Nebraska.

He went 8 for 8 for another 89 yards in the second half to finish an eye-popping 20 for 21 for 287 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Fields also ran for 54 yards, though that total would have been higher if not for three sacks.

“I think we played well for week one,” he said. “Of course there’s a lot of things we have to work on, but that’s just what film is for. Tomorrow we’re gonna look at the film and find out what we have to get better at.”

ExplorePHOTOS: Ohio State routs Nebraska

His only incompletion was a pass he under threw to Chris Olave, who was initially wide open over the middle of the field but had to come back to try to make the catch and couldn’t hang on when a defender arrived at about the same time as the ball.

“I thought Justin played well,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “He didn’t force anything. He did a good job with his feet. He was accurate and I think the only incompletion he had was on the past to Chris. We did have a couple of sacks in there that maybe we can throw the ball away but the good news is overall now we have something to work on.”

2. While the passing game was almost as efficient as possible, the running game left something to be desired.

The Buckeyes finished with 222 yards on 48 carries, a total that includes the sack losses and some garbage-time carries by reserve tailbacks Steele Chambers (four carries for 32 yards), Xavier Johnson (four for 17) and quarterback Jack Miller III (two for 23).

Master Teague got the start and carried 12 times for 41 yards. He scored two touchdowns but averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.

Trey Sermon, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma making his Ohio State debut, ran for 55 yards on 11 carries. His 5.0-yard average was enhanced by an 18 yard scamper.

“Sometimes when you’re used to going against a certain front for months at a time and seeing the same looks that happens sometimes,” Day said. “Nebraska brings a bunch of different stuff. I thought we did fit some runs there. A couple of them didn’t hit the way we wanted them to, but we did throw the ball a little bit more. We’ll take a look at the film and see. I thought the offensive line played well and knocked some people off the ball.”

3. The Ohio State defense had some breakdowns early but finished strong.

Nebraska scored touchdowns on two of its first four drives, and both were the result of long drives.

Quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey hurt the Buckeyes on designed runs and scrambles, often using misdirection to keep a unit with one player who was a full-time starter last season (middle linebacker Tuf Borland) back in the same spot he was in 2020.

As the game went on, the Buckeyes shored some things up. The Cornhuskers were still able to move the ball, but they managed to get only three points out of their last eight possessions after scoring 14 on their first four.

“I think there are things that are concerning, and I do think it was a slow start,” defensive coordinator Kerry Cooms said. “I think they’re a good team and a good offense. Any time you are spending a summer trying to get ready for somebody and you don’t know exactly what they’re going to do it’s challenging.”

He praised assistants Greg Mattison, Larry Johnson, Al Washington and Matt Barnes for communicating what was going on and how to adjust.

“It was very difficult. A lot of things that probably didn’t look the exact same way we had practiced against them,” Coombs said. “I’m so impressed with these kids. They don’t panic. They take the adjustments. They understand and learn and go out and put them in place so I thought they did a really really good job after the first couple of series.”

4. As the game wore on, Ohio State players absorbed a few high hits from Cornhuskers defensive backs.

Three flags were thrown for targeting, though one was picked up.

At the end of the day, Cam Taylor-Britt and Deontai Williams had been ejected, meaning they will miss the first half of Nebraska’s game against Big Ten West favorite Wisconsin next week.

“I know (Nebraska coach Scott Frost) and when it’s going fast and you’re trying to make decisions on how to get a guy down it’s hard. I’d be shocked if there was any mal-intent there,” Day said. “Sometimes when you slow it down it looks a little crazy. But at the same time we understand you’ve got to protect the players and that’s part of this right now, which isn’t easy at times.”

5. The answer to one of the biggest questions of the offseason came in the fourth quarter.

Who is the backup to Fields?

At least for this game, that call went to Miller, a true freshman from Arizona who is expected to battle classmate D.J. Stroud for the starting job next year if Fields leaves for the NFL.

Miller scored his first college touchdown on a 2-yard run with 18 seconds left. He also had a 21-yard run but did not attempt a pass.

Day said prior to the game the competition to be this year’s backup, which also includes senior Gunnar Hoak, would continue into the season.

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