Last Call: Final Thoughts, Predictions and Questions Ahead of Ohio State’s Season Opener Against Nebraska

By 11W Staff on October 24, 2020 at 7:30 am
Tommy Togiai (72) and Dallas Gant tackle Nebraska's Wan'Dale Robinson
Bruce Thorson – USA Today

After a few trying months and seemingly endless back-and-forths of whether or not Ohio State would play football this fall, game day is finally here.

The Buckeyes are putting the final touches on their game preparations as they are set for a noon kickoff against Nebraska.

We're doing the same this morning here at Eleven Warriors, as our staff shares some final thoughts, predictions and questions we have as Ohio State begins its quest for another Big Ten title against the Cornhuskers.

Final Thoughts

We’re going to find out something about Ohio State’s defense.

The offense has the potential to be the best in program history led by a bunch of known quantities. Even if it explodes for 50 points, I don’t think we’re going to find out anything we didn’t already know.

This defense, though, is filled with question marks as it replaces 75 percent of its starting secondary and most of its defensive line production. It’s Ohio State so there’s a reloading of talent at those spots, but the talent remains unproven.

I think that talent is going to prove itself throughout the season, and I’m interested to see if it gets off to a hot start or if some holes get unveiled.

Nebraska isn’t Penn State, but it’s also not FCS Midwest from NCAA Football 14. The Huskers still provide a quality test for a season opener.

– Zack Carpenter

Let's be grateful we're watching the Buckeyes today.

This season is far from ideal in many ways. It's starting seven weeks late. Fans aren't allowed to attend games, and neither is The Best Damn Band in the Land. With only eight regular-season games, it's bound to be over in a blink of an eye, and we all still have to hold our breath and hope no games are canceled due to COVID-19.

But it's still so much better than the alternative. Imagine if the Big Ten was still digging in on its heels on not playing this fall, and we had to wait even longer to watch the Buckeyes play, knowing they wouldn't even get a shot to compete for this year's national championship? So while today will be a very different game day than usual, let's appreciate that we get to watch Ohio State football today, knowing how close we came to not getting to watch the Buckeyes at all.

– Dan Hope

I'm still not sure what to expect.

Everybody spent the past 10 months speculating. Thinking about how this team will look once it finally gets onto the field. Even with all that time to dissect both sides of the ball, until the ball gets kicked off on Saturday afternoon, a ton of questions remain.

Does Justin Fields have another level? How does a Trey Sermon-Master Teague backfield perform? Which wide receiver stands out, and how do the freshmen look? Is this offensive line as good as advertised? Can they get a consistent pass rush? Are the linebackers actually the best position group? What’s up with the defensive scheme? How do the young defensive backs play?

The list of questions is, essentially, never-ending. We'll finally begin to answer some of them on Saturday.

– Colin Hass-Hill

This might end up feeling a lot weirder than anticipated.

I think I've been so caught up in the excitement of simply having Ohio State football back that I haven't really given any thought to how different everything is going to be this year.

An empty stadium, artificial crowd noise, no band ramp entrance, no Script Ohio, no cheerleaders, and Brutus can't even go to the game – I think things are going to feel really weird, especially for the first time around.

But hey, this is decidedly better than a canceled season, so I'll take it.

— Kevin Harrish


Ohio State only leads by one score until the second quarter … before the doors get blown off.

Last year’s opener against Florida Atlantic was a laugher before the second commercial break. I think this will be a blowout (predicted a 49-14 final score), but I don’t think it’ll happen right away.

The Buckeyes have been steaming throughout the first two months of the season watching other teams play, dying to get back on the field. But I don’t think that necessarily leads to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter like last season.

But once the second period starts, that’s when the Buckeyes slam on the gas pedal and pick up where they left off in 2019, when they led the country in second quarter points.

– Zack Carpenter

Bet the over.

68.5 is a lot of points, and that's where the over/under for Saturday's game sits, but I believe the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers will combine for 70+ points today. Ohio State's offense has juggernaut potential, and I don't think Nebraska will have much of an answer for the Buckeyes' passing or running games. I do think the Cornhuskers will score 20+ points themselves, though, against an Ohio State defense that enters the season with some question marks – especially if the Buckeyes are able to take their starters out of the game early, which could put some very inexperienced players on the field.

If making a bet that assumes some struggles for Ohio State's defense puts a bad taste in your mouth, I'd take the over for the Buckeyes scoring more than 45.5 points, too.

(Disclaimer: Take my betting advice at your own risk. Eleven Warriors waives all liability for any money you might lose.)

– Dan Hope

Maybe someday Nebraska will put up a fight. Not today.

Two years ago, a 2-6 Nebraska team entered halftime in Columbus with a led yet ultimately couldn’t hold on, losing 36-31 to the Buckeyes. All other games between the two teams in the Urban Meyer and Ryan Day eras have been one-sided blowouts in favor of Ohio State. On Saturday, expect Ohio State to win a sixth straight game versus the Cornhuskers.

Eventually at some point in the future, one has to think, they’ll start putting up more of a fight. They joined the conference with an idea that they’ll compete among the Big Ten’s best. That hasn’t even come remotely close to happening.

This weekend, the gap between Nebraska and the conference’s current top dog will be as evident as ever.

– Colin Hass-Hill

Justin Fields is going to use his legs.

I think we're going to see Justin Fields running the ball a lot more this season than we saw last season, and I think that's going to start today.

Fields wasn't all that hesitant to run to start the season last year – I mean, his first touch was a 55-yard touchdown run – but later in the year it seemed like he was, especially after his injury. That's understandable, especially with the lack of depth behind him and the fact that he had J.K. Dobbins in the backfield too, but I think circumstances are a bit different this year.

I sincerely believe he's one of the best running quarterbacks in the country and I think he's going to want to show off that aspect of his game as he tries to make a run at a Heisman Trophy and improve his draft stock. Also, Ohio State's been making a big deal about Fields being leaner and faster after switching to a vegan diet. I don't think that's an accident.

Nobody is doubting his arm anymore, so I have a hunch he's going to want to show off his athleticism a little bit this year, because he didn't get the chance to very often last season.

– Kevin Harrish


What new wrinkles will we see from Ohio State's defense?

As much as Ohio State has said that its defensive scheme hasn't changed much from last year, I still believe the Buckeyes have some new tricks up their sleeves that they're waiting to unveil once the actual games begin.

After losing seven NFL draft picks from last year's defense, and moving Shaun Wade and Pete Werner to new positions, can Ohio State really afford to rely on the same single-high 4-3 base defense as heavily this year as it did last year? I'm not sure it can, but I'm also not sure exactly what its rotations and subpackages will look like – Saturday will give us our first glimpse of what Kerry Coombs has brought to the defense and how the Buckeyes are adjusting to the personnel they have this year.

– Dan Hope

Is this offense otherworldly?

I spent the first 9.5 months after last season ended trying to temper some of the expectations surrounding this Ohio State offense. The Buckeyes had a huge hole to fill with J.K. Dobbins’ exit, walked into the offseason understanding they’d be relying on a youth-filled wide receiver corps and didn’t have a clear backup quarterback.

But over the past month, I’ve gone all-in on what I expect from this offense. What exactly does that mean? I think it’ll be the most productive and most efficient in the country. I’ve bought into the skilled receivers and think this offensive line will be the best in college football. The talent surrounding Justin Fields should make this offense deadly. Against Nebraska, we’ll get our first look.

– Colin Hass-Hill

How does Marcus Williamson look in the slot?

How the pass rush looks and how the interior defensive line holds up against the run are probably bigger questions, especially against a Nebraska offensive line that’s the strength of its team.

But I think an underrated part of the season is how Williamson performs with Wade moving to the outside. If the Buckeyes play Alabama or Clemson, perhaps they’ll elect to stick Wade on Jaylen Waddle or Amari Rodgers. But even if they do, Williamson will still be needed down the road in those matchups so he’ll need to prove himself.

If Williamson is matched up with Wan’Dale Robinson, it should give the Buckeyes’ starting slot corner some valuable experience and about as good of a test as he could get to open the season.

That’s the No. 1 matchup I’m going to be watching throughout the day.

– Zack Carpenter

What's this receiving corps gonna look like?

I could probably tell you Ohio State's top six or eight receivers, but I have absolutely no idea how the rotation and depth chart is going to shake out, especially with the addition of four true freshmen who are all probably going to see first-team snaps.

I am quite confident that it's going to be one of the best receiving corps in the country, especially by the end of the season, but I just don't know the specifics. And I'm eager to find out.

– Kevin Harrish

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