Before each week's Ohio State game, Eleven Warriors catches up with a media member who covers the opposing team to get his or her perspective on the Buckeyes' upcoming opponent.
This week, we caught up with Erin Sorensen, the deputy editor of Hail Varsity, to get her insight on Nebraska as the Cornhuskers make the trip to Columbus to play the Buckeyes on Saturday (Noon, FOX).
Nebraska has a record of just 2-6, after dropping each of its first six games to Colorado, Troy, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern, but the Cornhuskers have won back-to-back games to build up some momentum going into this weekend's game at Ohio Stadium.
How have the Cornhuskers improved from the beginning of the season through now? Despite the slow start, are Nebraska fans still excited about first-year coach Scott Frost? Who are some of the players to watch in Saturday's game, and do the Cornhuskers have a shot at pulling the upset?
Sorensen answers those questions for us and more in this week's edition of Across The Field.
Q: Nebraska is just 2-6 this season, but the Cornhuskers have won their last two games and have seemingly improved steadily over the course of the season. What are the biggest ways in which you have seen the team improve from the beginning of the season until now?
Sorensen: The No. 1 thing? Confidence. Nebraska is a much different team mentally today than it was two months ago. Some of that can be attributed to attrition (Scott Frost has rarely minced words on the need for buy-in and the fact that he didn't always feel he had that). Some of that can be attributed to everything starting to click for the team. In fact, it was the loss to Purdue that really started to kick things in to gear for Nebraska. Sure, the Huskers still lost to Wisconsin and Northwestern after that, but that's the point the team notes as the moment things started to turn as far as their confidence is concerned.
Frost said on Thursday that he felt like Nebraska went into the Michigan matchup thinking they couldn't win. He doesn't see that with the team heading into Ohio State. This team's confidence is night and day different from where it was several weeks ago.
Oh, and the running back duo of senior Devine Ozigbo and freshman Maurice Washington is also something that has steadily improved throughout the season. Those two are rockstars.
Q: Going into the season, there certainly appeared to be a lot of excitement in Lincoln surrounding Scott Frost's arrival as head coach. Has that enthusiasm been dampened at all by the slow start to this season, or are expectations for his future leading the program still as high as ever?
Sorensen: I think there was some disappointment in the way the season started, but I don't think the majority of reasonable Nebraska fans lost their enthusiasm. While Nebraska's record is still currently 2-6, there have been a lot of improvements made in the short time Frost and his staff have been in Lincoln. I think a lot of people are excited for the future if things continue to trend positively. That doesn't mean Nebraska's going to win the rest of its games this season, but improvement is made in a lot of ways (both on and off the field). That's what is keeping most fans' expectations high.
Q: Urban Meyer said this week that this is a "completely different" Nebraska team from the one Ohio State beat 56-14 last year. What are the biggest things that have changed since last year?
Sorensen: Well, quarterback Adrian Martinez. He's leading a pretty impressive Nebraska offense, which even Meyer made note of this week. I encourage Ohio State fans to take a look at this piece from Hail Varsity's Branden Vogel earlier in the week for some context on Nebraska's offense in October.
What I think will be the same in 2018 versus 2017 is that Ohio State is going to score a lot of points. The difference? I think Nebraska will, too.
Q: Adrian Martinez is off to a great start as Nebraska's starting quarterback, having already broken the school record for passing yards by a freshman. How would you evaluate his performance so far? What's been most impressive about him so far, and what are the biggest things he still needs to work on?
Sorensen: Well, his performance is that of a championship-level quarterback and he's only 18 years old. Don't mistake that for me saying Nebraska is a championship-level team right now because I don't want to confuse the two. Martinez deserves the praise and to be considered toward the top of the top in the Big Ten because he's a spectacular athlete, though.
What's impressed me most about him is his confidence and maturity. He stepped into a big role in a crucial year and has handled it with grace. He takes the blame for things that aren't always his fault, and he passes credit when he deserves the praise. It's admirable for someone his age.
The biggest thing for Martinez to keep improving on is just doing his job. He doesn't always have the pieces around him to run the offense Frost wants to in the future, so he just has to stay patient and do his job. The wins will come. He just has to keep leading Nebraska there.
Q: Who are some of the other Nebraska players who Ohio State fans need to be aware of entering this game?
Sorensen: I already mentioned them above, but Ozigbo and Washington. Nebraska also has a pretty dynamic duo at wide receiver in senior Stanley Morgan Jr. and sophomore JD Spielman. It's easy to talk about Martinez, but those guys deserve a lot of credit too.
On defense, keep an eye on sophomore defensive end Ben Stille. He's good now, but he's going to only get better. Junior inside linebacker Mo Barry is another guy who can wreak havoc on an opposing offense.
Q: What do you think Nebraska must do well to have a chance to upset Ohio State on Saturday, and how do you see the game playing out?
Sorensen: Well, I think Nebraska's offense has to run efficiently and effectively. They're going to have to get points and they have to convert trips inside the red zone into touchdowns, not field goals. I honestly don't see the Huskers having much of a shot at winning if they can't score at least 35 points. It probably needs to be more, though.
Nebraska's weakness is its defense. That side of the ball is steadily improving, but they're still 102nd nationally in total defense (with 438 yards allowed per game) and 101st in scoring defense (allowing 33.4 points per game). If they can hold Ohio State to 40 points or less, that'd be a pretty big victory. Oh, and if they can force Ohio State to punt.
While I'd love Nebraska to get the upset, I think Ohio State ultimately wins this one. However, I think the Huskers put up a good fight and leave the Horseshoe feeling as good as they can in a loss.