Following a modest 71-point win over in-state foe Miami (OH), Ohio State coach Ryan Day was back it Tuesday holding court with the media ahead of a showdown in Lincoln against Scott Frost's Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday night.
Ohio State is seemingly clicking on all cylinders especially on defense where the Buckeyes currently rank No. 2 in total defense giving up 222 yards per contest including just 60 on the ground, good for No. 7 in the country.
Those averages might be tough to maintain versus Nebraska as the Cornhuskers bring a handful of legit playmakers to the table, led by dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez. Day is certainly no stranger to the Cornhuskers quarterback:
Q. Adrian Martinez is going to be the best quarterback that you’ve seen so far and maybe the best athlete. Can you talk a little bit about what he brings that’s so difficult to defend, and also what will you do differently this week specifically to prepare for what he can do?
RYAN DAY: Yep. Adrian is a very talented young man. He’s a great kid. We recruited him and spent a bunch of time with him. I recruited him and love he and his family. Great competitor, great leader, got a great way about him. On the field, first off, he’s big and strong and powerful. He’s very athletic, so in terms of the run game, his ability to extend plays with his feet, you’ve got to get him on the ground, which is not easy. He’s explosive, he’s fast, he’s strong and has good running skills, makes good decisions, and then throwing the ball, he’s really accurate. I think when you combine that together of the ability to run and throw along with his intelligence and game management, he is by far the best quarterback we’ve seen.
Not only did Day recruit Martinez, he also watched the then-freshman torch Ohio State last year for 266 yards passing and another 72 on the ground with three total touchdowns in a game Ohio State held on to win, 36-31, in the Shoe.
Martinez ran for two short touchdowns capping back-to-back drives following Ohio State fumbles in the second quarter turning a 16-7 OSU lead into a 21-16 Nebraska advantage at the half.
With Ohio State leading 30-21 and trying to salt it away in the fourth quarter, Martinez responded again hitting Stanley Morgan Jr. on a 46-yard pass leading to a field goal trimming the deficit to 30-24 with just under eight minutes in regulation.
Ohio State answered with a touchdown to make it 36-24 with 4:52 left but Martinez wouldn't go away hitting on 5-of-5 throws for 59 yards including a 17-yard strike to JD Spielman to make it 36-31 before the 'Huskers ran out of time. Yes, Ohio State was in a bit of a prevent defense at that point but Martinez executed right down the field.
Martinez did lose a fumble but was sacked just once as Ohio State's defense surrendered 450 total yards.
This year, the defense has something to prove and it certainly looks like the Silver Bullets are back but while the unit has indeed performed spectacularly, the group has yet to face a quarterback the caliber of Martinez as either a runner or passer.
Last week against Illinois, Martinez scorched Illinois for 327 yards and three touchdowns through the air while completing 64.7% of his throws and added another 118 yards on the ground (6.6 ypc) as the Cornhuskers chewed up 673 total yards of offense.
So is Ohio State's defense up to the test of containing Martinez and maybe even forcing a couple turnovers in the process?
We'll find out Saturday night but this is no doubt a big test for a few critical pieces of Ohio State's defense.
First, Ohio State's much-maligned linebackers not named Malik Harrison a year ago have stood tall through four games but will face a much different test if/when they are called upon in pass coverage and also in discipline when Martinez calls his own number either on the read/option or when plays break down.
Second, Ohio State's secondary has been extremely effective holding opponents to just 162 passing yards per game (No. 19 nationally) even though teams have been playing from behind from the first quarter onward. Not only will the secondary have its hands full trying to slow down Spielman and Wan'Dale Robinson but it will also be responsible assisting the front seven in keeping a watchful eye on the legs of Martinez.
Doing exactly that should conceivably be a more realistic now that the Buckeyes aren't playing man press almost exclusively as they did a year ago, instead deploying a lot of zone coverages that enable defensive backs to keep an eye on the backfield.