We're finally just one sunrise away from Ohio State having an opportunity to get back on the winning track after the loss to Purdue preceded a much-needed open week.
Of course, "sunrise" shouldn't be taken literally as the sun apparently no longer shines in Ohio.
In any event, it's a big weekend in Columbus as the Buckeyes host the Nebraska Cornhuskers at high noon following Eleven Dubgate 8, our annual tailgate party funding DownSyndrome Achieves.
The open date afforded Greg Schiano and company a chance to take stock and potentially make some adjustments on a defense ranked No. 68 in the country giving up almost 391 yards per game. Will we see anything different? Can the Buckeye defense slow down a Nebraska offense ranked 19th in the country churning out 471 yards per game?
Kyle: While the 'man-coverage' narrative remains the same with Schiano's defense, he's actually begun mixing in far more zone coverage in recent weeks, and I expect that trend to continue against the Huskers. Often, this zone coverage has come in the form of 'Cover-3' in which it looks just like the single-high, man-coverage which we saw so often the past two seasons, as opposed to the Quarters coverage scheme we saw under his predecessor, Chris Ash. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses, which is why I expect to see both this Saturday in the 'Shoe. Nebraska has a potent run game with QB Adrian Martinez, and uses a scheme very similar to what we saw with J.T. Barrett at the helm of the Buckeye offense last year, given that both Ryan Day and Scott Frost both cut their teeth under Chip Kelly. Martinez is a serious running threat (4.92 ypc) in the option game and OSU defensive backs must contribute to stopping it by keeping their eyes in the backfield rather than turning their backs in man-coverage.
David: I would certainly hope we see something different. Greg Schiano and company are too smart and there's simply too much raw talent on the defensive side of the ball for Ohio State's defense to keep farcing away games. Nebraska has one (1) win against FBS opponents this season. I certainly hope the Buckeyes can slow them down.
Kevin: Honestly, I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea what to expect. On one hand, I think Nebraska could attack Ohio State in a lot of the same ways as Purdue did, with similar athletes creating similar problems in space.
On the other, Ohio State has had two weeks to fix some things, make some adjustments and get healthier, and I wouldn’t exactly expect them to come out flat after a loss, either. So I don’t really have an answer for you, but I think we’re going to find out how the game, and the rest of the season will go very early on in this game. Either stuff is fixed, or it’s probably not ever going to be.
On the other side of the ball, Nebraska ranks 74th in the country in rushing defense giving up 166 yards per game. Will we see any schematic changes from the Buckeyes after the open week? What kind of success on the ground do you expect to see?
Kevin: Again, I don’t really know for sure, but if I were to venture a guess, I would think the Buckeyes have a little more success on the ground this week because it honestly cannot get much worse than it has been, and I just can’t imagine this offensive staff doesn’t come up with something in two weeks to get the running game going. I think we see at least 150 yards rushing on Saturday.
Kyle: As I wrote earlier this week, I expect the Buckeyes to frequently line up in 2-TE sets as well as incorporate Jet motion more often. Tactics like a 2-RB set with both Dobbins and Weber are just gimmicks and won't be effective in the long run. But, having both Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry on the field at once would be a far subtler change in scheme and will offer a more fundamental issue for the Huskers to account for, as it creates another gap that must be defended. Similarly, the zone-read isn't the only way to defeat an unblockable defensive end, as a ball-carrier like Parris Campbell going full speed around the edge is nearly impossible for a defender to catch as they come out of their stance. Once the threat of a Jet sweep is established, it will open up all kinds of interior running lanes for Dobbins and Weber.
David: I expect Ohio State's rushing attack to improve, simply because it cannot get much worse. Jones is obviously more of a strategic expert than I am, but I hope that Kevin Wilson, Ryan Day, and Greg Studrawa figured out the problems with the offensive line and how to fix them. Obviously, Dwayne Haskins is not much of a runner. But, as you see with offenses with pass-only quarterbacks like Will Grier at West Virginia and Jake Fromm at Georgia, their offenses have a very productive rushing attack. So it is possible.
Any chance we see Tate Martell in the red zone this week considering the Buckeyes haven’t scored a touchdown in their last eight trips inside the 20? Would we if you were calling the plays? Why or why not?
David: No chance we see it. If Ohio State was going to do it, they would have already. I think it's a good idea, and I think it would be at least moderately successful, but one of the problems that I'm sure the Buckeyes have looked at is the potential health risk with Martell. If he goes down, and Haskins goes down, it's lights out on your season.
Kevin: If we see Tate Martell in red zone situations, I think that is a very, very bad sign because it would mean they have no other answers. There’s no reason this team shouldn’t be able to score in the red zone with Dwayne Haskins at quarterback, and to me, putting in Martell would just be a bandaid, not actually fixing the problems with the offense, but maybe masking them a bit.
That said, of Ohio State strikes out on a few red zone attempts on Saturday and the game is uncomfortably close, I might roll with it to just try to get out of the game alive. But it’s a desperation move.
Kyle: I certainly hope not. J.T. Barrett was a very different kind of runner - one who could run through arm tackles and always seemed to fall forward for two or three extra yards. Martell has superior lateral quickness, for certain, but whose small stature isn't going to bowl over a defender for the extra yard. Simply inserting him in the game won't replicate the threat Barrett posed inside the 20. More importantly, though, Martell isn't the best quarterback on the team, which limits what the offense can do. Haskins' passing threat still exists inside the 20 (12 of his 30 TD passes have come from inside the red zone) and replacing him with a lesser passer doesn't make the offense as a whole any better, it simply moves the strength from one aspect to another. To improve the team's conversion chances inside the 20, they need to have a better approach, rather than continuing to run the same plays that often work in the middle of the field.
Call your shot. Who wins the Big Ten East? Justify your pick.
Kyle: Ohio State will win the division and the conference and make the CFP. Michigan's defense remains as good as it's been in recent years, but the excitement over their offensive success is misguided. The Wolverines are 33rd nationally in yards-per-play offensively, which, while the best since Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor, is nothing to write home about. They still lack playmakers at the offensive skill positions and place far more weight on the shoulders of their defense than any other team in the conference, meaning only a handful of missed assignments can result in a loss. I wouldn't be shocked to see Penn State knock them off this weekend, leaving Ohio State firmly in the drivers' seat during a relatively down year for the conference.
David: I'm going to pick Michigan. Ohio State has shown me nothing whatsoever that makes me feel confident about their chances against any team, none more so than the Wolverines. If there's ever a year Harbaugh will pull off a win against the Buckeyes, its this year.
Kevin: Ohio State. I think Michigan is very good, but I think the Buckeyes just match up well. The Wolverine defense is legit, but they run an offense from 2004 that isn’t really all that explosive like the teams that have given Ohio State trouble. And I think the game being at home helps the Buckeyes as well. I’m not sure Michigan will be able to contain Ohio State offensively all game and I’m not at all sold that the Michigan offense is going to be near as effective against the Buckeyes as teams like Purdue, TCU or Penn State.
Scott Frost was supposed to be the answer in Lincoln and he very well could be long-term but for now the Huskers are 2-6 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten West. Are you bullish on Frost in Nebraska? If you had to start a program today, which Big Ten West head coach would you hire and why?
Kevin: Scott Frost is fine, and I think he’ll do fine at Nebraska, but he’s no Kirk Ferentz. Just kidding. My guy would be Jeff Brohm. Part of it is hat-tipping the dude that just laid waste to the local team, but the other half is just how impressed I’ve been with him since he’s been there.
I thought Purdue would have a down year this year after losing a ton of talent, but then here they are dumping the Buckeyes by four touchdowns.
David: Mike Riley absolutely ran the Nebraska program into the ground. Give Frost some time. I don't know if he'll ever win a national championship, but he's a good coach and will have this program bowl eligible sooner rather than later. If I had to start a program today, however, I'd hire Jeff Brohm. If you can win at Western Kentucky and Purdue, you can win anywhere.
Kyle: I think the offensive success the Huskers have found immediately this fall shows that he is more than capable of coaching at a high level, but his defense has taken a little more time. That said, coordinator Erik Chinander is a former Broyles Award nominee, and he turned around UCF's moribund defense in only two years. There's a clear lack of talent in Lincoln right now when compared to their conference rivals, but if Frost is able to get some high-level players there, it won't be long before they're competing for division titles. That said, I'd still take Jeff Brohm to coach a team right now. His creativity meshing classic spread looks with a pro-style passing game (which many think is the next direction where the game is headed) is unrivaled in the conference, and I wouldn't be shocked if an NFL franchise took him out of Purdue before too long.
Ohio State enters the game as a 21-point favorite over the Huskers. Will they cover? Give us a final score and game MVP prediction.
Kyle: I think OSU blows the doors off Nebraska early, not just because of the pent-up frustration post-Purdue, but because they don't want to get into a shootout with this team. Making them become one-dimensional and have to come back from a large deficit is a likely game plan in and of itself. OSU wins 59-21 as Haskins throws for 300 yds and 5 TDs in a shortened appearance.
David: I (still) never pick Ohio State to cover, and I'm not going to start doing that now. Ohio State wins 38-21. J.K. Dobbins breaks out and has a huge game to earn MVP honors.
Kevin: I think they’ll win, and cover, even though Nebraska might score some points. I’ve got the Buckeyes winning 56-21 with Dwayne Haskins as the MVP, because who else would it be?