Ohio State’s deficiencies were fairly under control against Nebraska.
What prevented this game from being a more decisive win were disappointing performances from two areas that are expected to be strengths.
1. The defensive line is supposed to be wrecking people, and that just has not happened consistently.
As everyone knows, the loss of Nick Bosa looms large here, but it is surprising such a deep and reputedly talented group has not been more dynamic without him. Ohio State has gotten really only been two standout performances from anyone else: Dre’Mont Jones against TCU and Chase Young at Penn State. Otherwise this unit has just been “blah,” and that’s not good enough the way this Ohio State defense is otherwise constructed this season with so many new players in the back seven.
(For example, the 1998 defensive line was just OK, but the back seven included multiple sure-fire NFL talents with experience. That is not the case this season.)
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Multiple times when I ran back the film from Saturday, I saw defensive linemen getting washed out. That can’t happen if you want to have a good defense, especially if the rest of the guys are just OK and/or are still learning the ropes.
2. Then there’s the quarterback.
Dwayne Haskins entered the season with high expectations and still managed to exceed them.
For whatever reason, he wasn’t on against Nebraska. He missed a number of throws he normally makes, and that had a big impact on the way the game played out. He also made a bad decision in the red zone that resulted in an interception.
Upward development curves rarely proceed in a straight line, so this is not something to be alarmed about. He is probably just going through the same ups and downs of any first-year starter. Did it look like there was a period of time he might be one of those rare guys who avoids such growing pains? Sure. But reality has set in. Even when Haskins was putting up astronomical numbers at Purdue, a handful of crucial mistakes had a big impact on the game.
There’s every reason to think he gets back on track — perhaps this week against a Michigan State secondary that (by design) presents chances to make big plays.
Every time out is valuable for a young guy who is talented and smart but still learning what it means to be tough mentally and physically.
3. The offensive line was very good.
Ohio State’s coaches gave the big guys up front a chance to shine and they did just that. With rare exceptions, everyone looked pretty good across the board, and they got stronger as the game went along.
The running game less predictable and gave the Cornhuskers a broader area to worry about based on some formational and personnel changes. Why this didn’t happen sooner is a bit of a mystery because Meyer and Co. should have anticipated teams would defend them differently without a run threat at quarterback.
ADDENDUM: Tight ends Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert also did their part blocking in the new “Diamond” formation that put them in the backfield flanking Haskins with J.K. Dobbins at tailback. That could be a major weapon for the Buckeyes moving forward, especially given Ruckert’s reputed ability to be a receiving threat.
4. So was Brendon White.
It’s no mystery the coaches thought this guy could be a linebacker at least briefly. He’s got a huge frame for a defensive back and hits like a ton of bricks.
He triggered quickly on plays in front of him and tackled well, showing better fundamentals and instincts than some of those players who got the first crack at playing time at safety this season.
What will he do for an encore? That could have a big impact on how this season finishes out. Perhaps the light came on for him just in time.
5. J.K. Dobbins looked energized.
Ohio State’s sophomore running back put up big numbers and did some of the small things that are necessary to win.
I’m thinking specifically of the fourth quarter when he surged forward on more than one occasion to get crucial extra yardage. Ohio State will need more of that going forward, so to speak.
6. The targeting rulings were both correct, at least technically.
As I said at the time, the targeting flag on Jordan Fuller was a textbook example of what is wrong with the rule. He appeared to be trying to come in low (anybody who says the rule has not changed behaviors does not know what they’re looking at) but the tight end was falling down trying to adjust to a bad throw and his head and neck ended up in the line of fire accidentally. The rule makes no allowances for this, but it should.
As for the review that did not yield an ejection for Nebraska — the official was correct in ruling Johnnie Dixon had transitioned out of being a “defenseless player,” so that was not a foul.
7. This week reminded me of the value of watching a team before they play Ohio State.
I have had this thought at other times this season, but it was driven home again as I think some of the reaction to the way the Buckeyes won was overly negative.
Nebraska has earned its 2-7 record, but there are things the Cornhuskers do well. And it is true they have been better recently than they were at the beginning of the season, which is not unusual at all.
Anyway, my point is that even if a team overall has trouble putting it together, you generally see standouts on film. That was the case with previous Ohio State opponents, and it was true again this week.
Adrian Martinez is clearly very talented. So are running backs Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington and receivers Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman. Scott Frost’s scheme does a good job of maximizing those talents against everyone (well, except Michigan), and that was no different against Ohio State. Defensively Mohamed Berry, Lamar Jackson and Aaron Williams all stood out against Minnesota, and they did good things against the Buckeyes, too.
Just something to keep in mind.