The release of the first edition of the College Football Playoff has already shaken up the landscape of college football. One team highly effected was the sixth ranked Buckeyes of Ohio State. Even a 7-1 record with wins over #12 Oklahoma and #8 Wisconsin was not sufficient enough for head coach Urban Meyer and his crew to make the initial CFP rankings. Of course, all isn’t lost for the Buckeyes.
The same can be said for Nebraska as they possess the same overall record (7-1) as Ohio State. Only thing is, their schedule may not possess the same amount of “splashy” victories. The Cornhuskers find themselves however in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West division even with a key loss last week at Wisconsin. A vital loss to Ohio State can diminish those chances of a berth in the Big Ten title game for the Cornhuskers. Who can put together an important conference win at this key juncture of the season? Let’s breakdown this huge Saturday night matchup.
What To Know About Nebraska
The road for the Cornhuskers this season has not been well publicized but despite it all, here they are within the top ten while eyeing a prime opportunity. Senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., is at the steering wheel of a Nebraska offense that totals 204.0 rushing yards per game, with Armstrong himself totaling 419 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. The dual threat QB has also passed for 1,764 yards with 11 more touchdowns. He shares the backfield with leading rusher Terrell Newby (588 yards, four TDs) but the offensive line has been banged up as of late and will be without starting right guard Tanner Farmer, due to an injury suffered last week against Wisconsin. Receiver Jordan Westerkamp is fourth on the Nebraska all-time receiving list in catches, yards, and TDs while also leading the team this season in catches (16) and TD receptions (4).
The defense for the Cornhuskers has shown steady improvement over the years but this season, the unit is 20th in the country in overall defense, 15th in scoring defense, and first in interceptions. Leading the way is senior linebacker Josh Banderas, who is tops in the Huskers defense in tackles. Safeties Nathan Gerry and Keiron Williams are tied for the team-lead in interceptions with four apiece as both also combined for 89 tackles. The stout play by starting corners Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones has helped the Cornhuskers D hold opponents to just 205.4 passing yards per game.
What To Know About Ohio State
Although this may not be as dangerous of a Buckeyes team as year’s past, it is still a very good one. A loss to Penn State on the road two weeks back placed a dent in the Buckeyes plans for the College Football Playoff. If the Buckeyes are to go far into the postseason, the shoulders of quarterback J.T. Barrett will carry some of the responsibility. This season, the redshirt junior has thrown for 1,675 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions. What has driven the Buckeyes offense is the trio of Barrett, running back Mike Weber Jr. (770 yards, six TDs) and RB/WR Curtis Samuel (1,097 scrimmage yards, eight TDs) in the team’s running game. Receivers Dontre Wilson and Noah Brown are Barrett’s main targets and have combined for 10 of Barrett’s 17 passing TDs.
The Buckeyes defense lost a ton of starters to the NFL Draft but the next crop of talent is still capable of fielding an excellent defense. One that is currently ranked sixth in the country in total defense. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is the team’s leading tackler (51) and is the obvious captain of this talented defense. While he’s the headliner of the unit, linebacker Jerome Baker has been a playmaker as well with 48 tackles, six tackles for loss, and a pick-six over Oklahoma to boot. Free safety Malik Hooker is playing at an All-Big Ten level this season with 50 tackles, four INTs, and 4.5 tackles for loss and his play has somewhat overshadowed how Gareon Conley has played this season. Conley is second on the team in pass deflections with six.
Both teams enter the game with plenty to play for. For Nebraska, a win will keep their Big Ten title game aspirations alive with the Cornhuskers holding a slim lead over Wisconsin in the Big Ten West division. In the case of Ohio State, a conference win over a top ten team will bode quite well when it comes to them climbing the College Football Playoff rankings.
The Buckeyes have been trying to find consistency in their passing offense this season and will encounter one of the better secondaries in the entire country. The running game of Weber and Samuel can create some openings in the pass game which makes Nebraska’s front seven as arguably the biggest factor in the entire game.
Armstrong must avoid mistakes against a Buckeyes defense that pounces on their opponents mishaps. His dual-threat ability will keep the linebackers honest and if he can consistently connect with Westerkamp and fellow starter Alonzo Moore, things will get interesting in a hurry. What is going to be a determining factor is the mentality of Ohio State. With Meyer being the ultimate influential coach over the years, he will remind the Buckeyes that they are being slept on. Nebraska has enough talent on both sides to make things quite interesting but ultimately, Barrett has been more dependable than Armstrong at times and the talent along with playing with a big chip on their shoulders, will spark the Buckeyes to make a few plays in front of the home crowd.
Score – Ohio State 31 Nebraska 21