For an idea of how the season has gone for Ohio State defensively, consider that allowing 450 yards to Nebraska represented only the fourth-worst performance of the season for the Buckeyes, who allowed 539 yards their last time out, a 49-20 loss at Purdue two weeks earlier.
The Cornhuskers’ tallied 31 points, but that was merely tied for second worst through nine games. (Oregon State also tallied 31 in the opener, but some of those came against reserves.)
Still far from resembling the famed Silver Bullets of the 1990s or the stout units of the Jim Tressel era from 2001-10, these Buckeyes at least took a step in the right direction after being humilated in West Lafayette.
“I thought our defense improved,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “Obviously nowhere near where we need to be, but they improved. We’re still stop-gapping. That means the lineups continuously keep changing because of injuries, but I think we should have everybody back next week if we don’t get a guy hurt in practice.”
It turns out the latter happened last week when starting cornerback Jeffrey Okudah suffered a groin injury that kept him out of the game against the Huskers.
The Buckeyes also played the whole game without starting safety Isaiah Pryor (shoulder impingement), and they lost the other regular starter, Jordan Fuller, to a targeting ejection in the second quarter.
On the bright side, their absences created an opportunity for Brendon White to step out of his father’s shadow.
The son of former Ohio State captain and All-Big Ten defensive back William White tied linebacker Malik Harrison for the team lead with 13 tackles.
Two went for a loss, and he teamed with Chase Young to stop Nebraska running back Devine Ozigbo at the 1-yard line on third-and-goal with about eight minutes to go.
That forced the Huskers to settle for a field goal, cutting Ohio State’s lead to 30-24.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment forever,” said White, a four-star recruit from Olentangy Liberty north of Columbus who has spent time at linebacker and receiver before settling at safety. “As an athlete you face adversity that most people would want to quit, but when an opportunity comes like this, if you’re positive about it, you know you’re going to take advantage.”
Although Nebraska has only won two games this season, that is hardly the fault of the offense.
With athletic freshman Adrian Martinez at the controls of first-year coach Scott Frost’s spread-option attack, they entered the game 18th in the country in total yards (471.2 per game).
“It definitely was kind of difficult with the skill they have and the quarterback that’s shifty and the strong running backs they have,” White said. “We followed our rules, trusted in the coaches’ game plan and got the win.”
He credited Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and safeties coach Alex Grinch for helping him develop, but having a former NFL safety for a father certainly didn’t hurt, either.
“The biggest thing my dad tells me is just enjoy the game of football,” White said. “So that’s what I try to do, just put my head down, go to work and enjoy the game. If you don’t enjoy the game, you can’t play. I enjoy my teammates and this program and I’m ready to get after it next week.”