Ohio State will close out September with what could be the fifth-ranked Buckeyes’ first true test of the season.
Not only must they face a 3-1 Nebraska team that has legitimate Big Ten West championship aspirations, the game will be under the lights at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Here are six things to know about the matchup and the series:
1. Nebraska has one of the best quarterbacks Ohio State will face this season.
And that might be selling Adrian Martinez short.
The sophomore from Fresno, Calif., has lived up to his billing as a four-star prospect since arriving in Lincoln last season, becoming an instant starter and impact player.
He threw for 327 yards and ran for 118 last week at Illinois to break the school record with his fourth 400-yard total offense game and passed the great Tommie Frazier for No. 8 on the school’s career passing yardage list.
A true dual-threat player, he threw for 266 yards and ran for 72 last season at Ohio State, but this time around the Buckeyes could have an advantage thanks to getting to practice against Justin Fields all spring and in the preseason.
“Oh yeah,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Saturday night after the Buckeyes blitzed Miami 76-5. “All the practicing we did against him in camp and in spring football, yes, yes. It will be a definite test.”
2. The Cornhuskers have some nice skill players, too.
Receivers J.D. Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson are seventh and 12th in the Big Ten, respectively, in all-purpose yards so far this season while running back Maurice Washington is No. 10.
They along with Martinez are all good fits in Frost’s version fo the spread offense that has a heavy dose of option football and was a hit at UCF before his returned to his alma mater last year.
While Spielman is the nephew of Ohio State linebacking great Chris Spielman, Robinson is a four-star freshman from Kentucky who was also a recruiting target of the Buckeyes.
Robinson is the reigning Big Ten freshman of the week after running for 89 yards and catching eight passes for 79 yards against Illinois.
He has been compared favorably to Rondale Moore, the shifty Purdue receiver from the Bluegrass State who took a big chunk out of the Ohio State defense last season while the Boilermakers were putting together a 49-20 upset in West Lafayette last season.
3. The defense is still a work in progress.
So far the Cornhuskers have middle-of-the-road traditional statistics, ranking 56th in total defense (356.8 yards per game) and 62nd in scoring (25.3 points allowed per game), but they have been gashed once on the ground and once through the air.
Erik Chinander’s 3-4 scheme gave up 375 passing yards in an overtime loss to Colorado in Week 2 and is coming off a game in which Illinois totaled 221 yards on the ground in a 42-38 Nebraska win.
4. Turnovers have been a major factor on both sides of the ball.
Nebraska ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation with 10 takeaways, but the Huskers are last in the conference and 127th in the nation with 11 giveaways so far.
They had to rally against the Fighting Illini largely because of four turnovers — all lost fumbles.
5. Big plays could loom large Saturday night.
Nebraska had 14 plays of 20 yards or more against Illinois, and the Cornhuskers are tied for fifth nationally with 31 on the season according to CFBStats.com.
This was a major Achilles heel for Ohio State last season, but so far the Buckeyes have been better, yielding 12 such plays in four games (tied for 37th) and just one last week.
Ohio State’s offense has also been high-powered so far this season, ranking tied for 12th in 20-plus-yard plays with 25, while Nebraska has allowed 14.
6. This series has been surprisingly one-sided.
Nebraska and Ohio State are both members of the 900-win club, but NU has only won once in seven tries agains OSU, and that was a wild one.
Interim coach Luke Fickell’s Buckeyes led 27-6 in the third quarter but ultimately lost 34-27 in the first matchup between the teams as conference foes in 2011.
After Braxton Miller, Ohio State’s freshman quarterback from Wayne High School, went out with an ankle injury, the Buckeyes fell apart on both sides of the ball.
He returned to run roughshod over the Huskers a year later, rushing for 186 yards and a touchdowns and throwing for another 127 yards and a score as Ohio State rallied from a 10-point deficit to win 63-38 at Ohio Stadium.
After that, the Buckeyes outscored the Huskers by a combined 118-17 in a pair of meetings preceding last year’s close shave.
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