Five games into the season, Ohio State hasn't faced any team with near equal talent, but that doesn't negate the impressiveness of its wins.
In past years, the Buckeyes have sometimes struggled, had slip-ups, taken games into the second half or even lost to lesser teams. To put it simply, that has not happened yet this season. Ohio State's latest dominant win came with a 48-7 beatdown of the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Saturday. A 14-0 first-quarter lead turned into a 38-0 advantage by halftime.
Let's take a look back at 11 plays or sequences from the Buckeyes' fifth win that can help us learn about this team.
1st quarter – 12:43: Jeff Okudah intercepted his first pass of the game to end Nebraska's opening drive.
- Does this coverage look a lot like something run a year ago? It should. The Buckeyes deployed a good bit of press-man coverage against the Cornhuskers, including in this third-down situation.
- Chase Young, as happens so often, beat his one-on-one block with an inside move, forcing Adrian Martinez to scramble out of the pocket. He caught the right tackle expecting an outside speed rush. Larry Johnson likes to refer to a defensive lineman's set of moves as a "toolbox," and Young is certainly filling his up.
- This was Okudah's first of two interceptions on Saturday. Right before he goes out of screen, you can see his right hand on the receiver's shoulder pads, staying stride-for-stride. Okudah has tremendous closing speed, which he showed on this play.
- As it turns out, having the best defensive end and the best cornerback in the country on one team leads to a bevy of plays. Insightful stuff, huh? Sometimes it's not much more complicated than that.
1st quarter – 12:37 and 0:27: Austin Mack caught a 10-yard pass, and then he caught a 38-yard pass from Fields.
- The play-action pass from under center was the first offensive play Ohio State ran on Saturday, and it set up what came later. Fields got great protection, the defense bought on the fake and Mack beat the cornerback to convert a first down.
- Ohio State has heavily included out routes in its offense this season, and that continued against the Cornhuskers.
- Later in the first quarter, on another play-action pass with this one coming from shotgun, the Buckeyes caught the cornerback trying to jump what he thought was an out route only for Mack to use a double move to blow by him. Ryan Day plays the long game as a play caller, and this was the latest example.
- Had Fields put just a bit more air on the ball, Mack likely would've ended up in the end zone. Instead, Ohio State settled for 38 yards.
1st quarter – 10:41: Justin Fields ran for a 15-yard touchdown for Ohio State's first points of the game.
- The closer Ohio State gets to the red zone, the more dangerous Fields becomes as a runner. Defenses absolutely have to account for his ability to burn them with his legs, which he showed the Cornhuskers early.
- The offensive line gave Fields quality protection as he went through his reads, with Joshua Alabi picking up the defensive tackle on a stunt. But with nobody open and the middle linebacker taking a step toward Luke Farrell, Fields correctly saw an opening and took off.
- Is it OK to call Fields "sneaky fast?" Sometimes it's forgotten that he runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash because he glides as a runner and has impressed so much as a passer. All he needed was the linebacker to turn his hips to Farrell and Fields had enough of a lane.
- Ohio State has scored on 25-of-28 trips to the red zone, with 11 rushing touchdowns, 12 passing touchdowns and two field goals. With Fields' ability to run, Day has an abundance of options inside the 20-yard line.
2nd quarter – 11:53: Justin Fields completed a pass to K.J. Hill for 20 yards that put the Buckeyes on Nebraska's 4-yard line.
- Nobody had any doubt about Fields' arm strength entering his first season as a starter, but it seemed reasonable to believe his touch would need time to develop. Through five games, he has shown a surprisingly accurate arm and strong decision-making skills, and he has not thrown an interception yet.
- On this play, Fields saw there'd be a window for a pass to Hill with two inside linebackers at the line of scrimmage. One blitzed and the other dropped back into coverage, creating a small, open lane, and Fields delivered the ball to Hill exactly where it needed to be placed.
- Though he doesn't have explosive speed to rely on after the catch, Hill picked up more than five extra yards by spinning out of the initial tackle attempt.
- Hill, with 20 catches for 218 yards, likely won't reach his career-high mark of 70 catches that he set a year ago. But with a touchdown in four straight games, he's been a reliable weapon for Fields.
2nd quarter – 8:26: Zach Harrison and Jashon Cornell combined to tackle Maurice Washington behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of a yard.
- Harrison, a five-star recruit, has already played more than 100 snaps this season. He's played a larger role in the defense than expected this early in his career due to injuries to Jonathon Cooper and a couple other defensive ends. He was billed as a bit of a raw product, but he has shown flashes of his massive potential in the first five games.
- On this tackle for loss, Harrison got leverage on the tight end and worked his way down the line of scrimmage to deliver the initial hit on Washington.
- Robert Landers and Cornell played key roles on this play by getting interior penetration and forcing the running back to attempt to cut to his left, where Harrison tackled him.
- This type of play became a theme on Saturday. Ohio State's defensive line frequently reset the line of scrimmage a couple yards into Nebraska's backfield. The Cornhuskers biggest run plays came on a 56-yard scramble from Martinez and a few unexpected runs out of the I-formation.
2nd quarter – 6:41 and 6:08: Master Teague caught a 28-yard pass from Fields, and he had a 26-yard run on the next play that brought the Buckeyes to Nebraska's 1-yard line.
- Teague didn't carry the ball at all in the first quarter, and he only had four rushes in the second quarter, but he made the most of this mid-second quarter drive.
- To open the drive, Teague slipped out of the backfield and found himself wide open. He then, as he has tended to do, ran through the first tackle attempt and streaked down the sideline for nearly 30 yards.
- Teague then took the handoff on the next play for more than 25 yards. What's most impressive about this play is the massive hole for the running back. Thayer Munford, Jonah Jackson and Josh Myers each executed their blocks, leaving a gaping space for Teague.
- Also, watch as the middle linebacker spies on Fields and runs the complete opposite direction of the play. That's what can happen when defenses have to account for Fields' legs.
- The next play? A 1-yard touchdown from Teague. Three plays, three Teague touches, six points. That's everything the Buckeyes could ask for from J.K. Dobbins' backup.
2nd quarter – 4:39: Baron Browning and Robert Landers combined to tackle Wan'Dale Robinson for a 1-yard loss.
- The past few games, Davon Hamilton has stood out as the most impactful defensive tackle. On Saturday, though, that honor went to Landers.
- The fifth-year nose tackle executed a textbook swim move on the left guard then proceeded to knock the pulling right guard off his path, freeing Browning to make the initial tackle. When the running back saw Browning, he had to turn back inside and ran into Landers.
- This stuff came on a 3rd-and-1 situation, exactly when the defense needs somebody to make a play. This time, both Browning and Landers stepped up.
2nd quarter – 1:29 and 1:11: Martinez had a 9-yard rush, and then Chase Young forced a fumble with a sack on the following play.
- No game has passed yet without Young doing something spectacular. Don't expect that streak to end any time soon.
- Nebraska's two-minute drive began with Martinez gaining 9 yards on a keeper, and he can thank his coach for not calling a pass. Young got such a ridiculous jump off the line that he nearly took his second step before any other defensive lineman took a first step.
- The following play? The Cornhuskers didn't get so lucky. Young swatted away the hands of the right tackle who didn't stand a chance, leading to a sack of Martinez.
- For the third time in the past two games, Young caused a fumble with a sack. Sacks have apparently come so easy for him that he's now increasing the level of difficulty.
3rd quarter – 9:30 and 9:07: Robinson picked up 4 yards with a run, and then Pete Werner tackled Robinson for a 1-yard loss the following play.
- Nebraska's offensive success almost entirely came out of I-Formation, a look that it hadn't showed in its four prior games.
- Landers and Justin Hilliard nearly blew up the first play in this sequence, a speed option. Landers eschewed the cut block attempt and tackled Martinez, but the quarterback pitched the ball to Robinson in time. Werner couldn't win the foot race to the edge, leading to a 4-yard gain.
- The next play, Nebraska went back to its I-Formation, this time dialing up a pitch to Robinson. He didn't make it back to the line of scrimmage, though.
- Landers again penetrated, this time with Cornell, and Hilliard took on the pulling guard, forcing Robinson outside. Werner didn't allow Robinson outside, violently taking him to the ground with a tackle for loss. Day wants physicality from his defense, and he got it from Werner on this play.
3rd quarter – 7:47: J.K. Dobbins picked up 26 yards on a run.
- Dobbins had 24 rushes, and eight of them went for at least 8 yards. This, which went for 26 yards, was his longest gain of the evening.
- If you didn't already know Ohio State has four first-year starters on its offensive line, you wouldn't have guessed on Saturday. The line thrived.
- This run is set up by blocks from Jonah Jackson, Thayer Munford, Josh Myers and Jake Hausmann. Jackson made the particularly important block, completely negating a linebacker from the play. Austin Mack, arguably the team's best-blocking receiver, also made a key block down the field.
3rd quarter – 3:55: Justin Fields tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson.
- Day has intentionally had Fields not throw into traffic. But he doesn't seem quite as worried when Wilson's on the other end of the play.
- Fields delivered an absolute beauty of an end-zone fade pass to Wilson in the back-left corner to give the Buckeyes their final touchdown of the night. He somehow makes those types of plays look easy even though he has started just five games in his collegiate career.
- Wilson has already become arguably the team's best red-zone option and somebody with whom Fields has already developed chemistry.
Other Observations from Saturday's Game:
- Having watched all five of Ohio State's game, this might have been the best all-around performance yet. There's one week separating the Buckeyes and their first bye week, and it's still difficult to point out a major weakness. By the end of the first game of the 2018 season, complaints had already begun. This has the early makings of a ridiculously complete team.
- Browning's athleticism really shows against a team as fast as Nebraska, which had more team speed than one of Ohio State's prior opponents. That'll be an asset later in the year.
- To have success against Ohio State's defense, teams need to use misdirection, find soft spots in the zone and dial up plays they haven't much shown earlier in the year. Nebraska didn't do enough, other than going to the I-Formation for a few snaps.
- Werner garnered plenty of criticism a year ago, but he's arguably the team's most productive and versatile linebacker right now. He's playing at an All-Big Ten level.
- Okudah and Damon Arnette have turned into exceptionally sure tacklers, and that showed up again on Saturday. They combine with Shaun Wade and Jordan Fuller to have a secondary full of quality tacklers.
- Alabi whiffed on a run block on one of the offense's first plays, which could have spelled some concerns about him. However, he responded by turning into one of the offense's most consistent blockers the rest of the game.
- Mack had his best game as a receiver this season, but don't overlook his blocking. He might be the best wide receiver at Ohio State in that area.
- Myers loves to get to the second level to toss around linebackers and defensive backs.
- As much as we heard about the bullet for the entirety of the offseason, Brendon White played sparingly. If he didn't play much against Nebraska, that should tell everyone how much he'll play the rest of the season. The coaches seem to prefer Werner as the strongside linebacker rather than White, who's been effectively playing strongside linebacker when he's in the game.
- Luke Farrell made a few key blocks. He hasn't been involved much through the air yet with only a single catch this season, but he's been a consistent blocker.
- Fields made an interesting throw late in the second quarter when he threw a deep ball to Wilson down the sideline. Wilson couldn't reel in the deep ball, and it fell incomplete. It was the type of jump-ball throw into tight, one-on-one coverage that Fields hasn't thrown much this season, showing how much confidence he and the coaches have in Wilson to win in those types of situations.
- Jameson Williams dropped the ball on a kick return in the third quarter. The coaches seemed to be testing him out as a returner, and he didn't pass. If he can hang onto the ball, he'd almost certainly be dynamic both as a punt and kick returner. But ball security is a prerequisite for those spots.