The Rewind: What We Learned From 10 Plays In Ohio State's 52-17 Win Against Nebraska

By Colin Hass-Hill on October 29, 2020 at 10:50 am
Garrett Wilson

The wait lasted longer than ever before. A total of 301 days, to be exact.

The extended offseason finally ended on Saturday, with Ohio State routing Nebraska, 52-17, in what was a close game for much of the first half before the Buckeyes pulled away at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter. Justin Fields led the way by completing 20-of-21 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, and both Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave recorded more than 100 receiving yards. Defensively, Ohio State held Nebraska to 17 points, though the Cornhuskers did average 6.6 yards per play.

After rewinding the film, we're taking a closer look at 10 plays – or sequences of plays – from the Buckeyes' season opener that we can learn from as Ohio State begins to turn its attention to the rest of the season.

1st quarter – 13:57 and 13:15: Luke McCaffrey rushes for 47 yards, then Adrian Martinez carries it in for a 10-yard touchdown.

  • Props to head coach Scott Frost, offensive coordinator Matt Lubick and quarterbacks Luke McCaffrey and Adrian Martinez for this pair of plays. Sometimes opposing coaches just draw something up that works perfectly or their players make great plays. That's largely what happened here.
  • On the handoff to McCaffrey, the Cornhuskers executed it to perfection. The wide receiver blocked Baron Browning. The misdirection put Pete Werner and Jonathon Cooper a step behind. The pulling blocker hit Sevyn Banks who had outside contain. 
  • Two notes: 1) Marcus Hooker has to make that tackle. Especially in a single-deep safety defense, those are the plays he can't let slide. It's important to note, however, that after the first drive he made every tackle. This was a one-off occurrence in the opener. 2) Look at Tommy Togiai. The guy just never gives up, sprinting after McCaffrey. His motor is a thing of beauty.
  • The Martinez run, as designed, was defended well. The quarterback planned to run inside to the left, but Jonathon Cooper stood in the gap ready to make a tackle. Because Martinez saw him right away, he adjusted course and followed his running back who grabbed Browning's attention. No defensive back had contain on the outside, so he scored.
  • Good two plays for the Buckeyes? Of course not. But two plays that should keep you up at night concerned about Ohio State's defense? No, not really. It's the first drive of the first game of the season. Things happen. Because of how Nebraska designed its offense, there wasn't as much to take away from Ohio State's defense in Game 1 compared to the Buckeyes' offense. We'll learn a heck of a lot more this upcoming weekend.


1st quarter – 8:31: Justin Fields scrambles for 9 yards, then Master Teague scores a 1-yard touchdown.

  • If Justin Fields preferred, he could have thrown it to an open Garrett Wilson – who was calling for the ball – in the back of the end zone, He says he saw him there but opted to take off himself. Why? Because it was 3rd-and-4 and he knew he could pick up a first down and more. 
  • This is who Fields is. He's not changing anytime soon, and it behooves the Buckeyes to allow him to do what he does best. Yes, they need him to stay healthy. But they can't, and won't, alter his DNA as a quarterback. 
  • Master Teague didn't have his best game as a Buckeye. But even on Saturday, his power as a 225-pound tailback was evident. Tony Alford doesn't appear likely to rotate his running backs situationally, but Teague's the guy you'd want in there on short-yardage situations.
  • In particular, Thayer Munford and Wyatt Davis made impressive blocks on Teague's touchdown run. Munford moved Nebraska's right defensive end at will and Davis absolutely buried the left defensive end. They were bright spots on Saturday.


1st quarter – 6:35: Adrian Martinez throws an incomplete pass while hit by Tommy Togiai.

  • This play from Togiai gave off some DaVon Hamilton vibes. Ohio State didn't generate a ton of pressure from the edge on Saturday, so some of the pressure from the interior of the defensive line stood out. Larry Johnson has to love what Togiai did here to force a rushed pass from Martinez on 3rd-and-5.
  • This third-down defensive personnel package offers us a lens into what Kerry Coombs and Greg Mattison could do more of going forward. Slot cornerback Marcus Williamson subbed out with Cameron Brown replacing him, and Tuf Borland left the game for Josh Proctor to essentially line up as the Bullet (an in-the-box safety) beside Pete Werner and Baron Browning. This way, the Buckeyes get more speed on the field.
  • Ohio State's defensive coaches spent the last couple of months talking a lot about matching the offense's personnel and rotating more often. On Saturday, we didn't see a ton of that. This was just a glimpse. There's a good chance we see many more of those strategies implemented when the Buckeyes travel to play Penn State in Week 2.


1st quarter – 5:00 and 4:38: Justin Fields completes a pass to Chris Olave for 16 yards, and Fields rushes for six yards.

  • I included these back-to-back plays just as a reminder that Fields is who we thought he was
  • How many times have we seen this Fields-to-Chris Olave connection on an out route when the cornerback bails to guard against downfield passes? It was a staple of Ohio State's offense last year, and that hasn't changed in 2020.
  • The scramble from Fields. Wow. Just, wow. You have to imagine about 95% of quarterbacks don't even make it out of the first attempted sack, yet Fields ducks a second Cornhusker defender and picks up decent yardage. He's incredibly powerful as a runner.
  • Left guard Harry Miller got beat to his right off of the line of scrimmage, which led to Fields' scramble. The first-year starting sophomore had an up-and-down debut and, on a rewatch of the game, was clearly the most inconsistent offensive lineman among the starting five. It's important for Ohio State that Miller learns from Saturday, and given his pedigree, it's fair to assume he will.


2nd quarter – 12:01: Adrian Martinez throws an incomplete pass to tight end Travis Vokolek.

  • Just a veteran read and flawless play by Shaun Wade to fend off a pass aimed at 6-foot-6, 260-pound Travis Vokolek. He worked off of the wide receiver going down the field, noticing Vokolek and sticking to him. Considering his reputation, Wade likely won't get a ton of balls thrown his way.
  • Another instance of Togiai applying some (late) pressure up the middle. He had an impressive starting debut.
  • You can see Coombs on the sideline hyping Wade up. Mattison's coaching from the press box for the first time since 1990 for one main reason: The re-hiring of Coombs. Especially in an empty stadium, the Buckeyes need his juice on the field.


2nd quarter – 2:43: Haskell Garrett sacks Adrian Martinez for a 5-yard loss.

  • The first sack of the season goes to Haskell Garrett, who had gotten shot in the face less than two months prior. Just a crazy story of recovery and perseverance for someone who went through something so traumatic.
  • To be clear: This isn't only some story about a miraculous recovery. It hasn't ended with the world happy to again see Garrett playing football and doing what he loves. That's just part of it. 
  • Garrett legitimately was one of Ohio State's best two defensive tackles on Saturday, along with Togiai. The Buckeyes have some legitimate depth concerns there, as evidenced by only five interior linemen playing more than five snaps. As long as Garrett stays healthy, he's an important part of what Johnson wants to do up front on the defensive line.


3rd quarter – 14:00 and 13:37: Justin Fields completes a 16-yard pass to Garrett Wilson, and Fields throws a 9-yard pass to Chris Olave.

  • Good luck to all defensive coordinators around the Big Ten who watched the season opener and saw how often and how well Ryan Day's staff utilized Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. 
  • Ohio State didn't run mesh concepts nearly as much in 2019 as it did in 2018. So, the third-down pass to Wilson was a bit of a throwback. With great protection and a nice pick from the tight end, this offense made it look easy.
  • In Week 1, Wilson looked comfortable as Fields' safety valve who he can turn to in third-down situations and when he just needs to make something happen. I thought Wilson's move primarily to the slot would help him lead the team in receptions, and he did nothing versus Nebraska to make me consider retracting that prediction.
  • Fields showcased some nice patience on both of these passes. You knew it at the moment and a rewatch confirmed it: He played a nearly perfect game.


3rd quarter – 12:07 and 11:33: Trey Sermon carries the ball for an 18-yard gain, and Justin Fields rushes for a 17-yard touchdown.

  • We're not diving much into the run game today. Why? Because Eleven Warriors film guru Kyle Jones already covered it extensively on Monday. Go read his detailed explanation on what happened to the rushing attack and why much of the concern is overblown.
  • Regardless, the 18-yard rush by Sermon is a good example of what this offensive line can do. Miller got beat inside, hanging on for dear life. But Nicholas Petit-Frere – who had an awesome performance – widened the hole by getting movement on the defensive end, and Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers executed a combo block to perfection, springing Sermon. 
  • Another thing to note: I thought Sermon's best carries came when Ohio State sent him outside and allowed him to operate in space, while Teague was better in short-yardage situations. I'm interested to see how the Buckeyes use them in order to play to their strengths moving forward.


3rd quarter – 3:52: Justin Fields gets sacked for a 9-yard loss.

  • Defensive line stunts troubled Ohio State at times a year ago, and Nebraska got through a couple of times by using them on Saturday. This is an area to watch going forward, especially given Penn State's pass rush.
  • The Cornhuskers had some success using stunt targeting the left guard spot, both when Miller and Matthew Jones were in the game. 
  • This week, Day said Ohio State used some long-developing route combinations against Nebraska, which sometimes made it hard to protect Fields for relatively long periods. While true, the offensive line will need to consistently play at a high level throughout the year based on how important the passing game is to this offense. 


4th quarter – 10:49 and 10:24: Master Teague rushes for 6 yards, then Justin Fields completes a 7-yard pass to Jeremy Ruckert.

  • Nothing too crazy here. Just a nice pairing of back-to-back plays that work off of each other.
  • You can see Jeremy Ruckert coming across the formation to deliver a blow to the crashing defensive end on first down. Teague has a huge hole with Miller and Myers working to the second level with a beautiful combo block.
  • The following play, Ruckert lines up in the same place but on the right side of the line. He again comes across the formation, though rather than blocking the end, he goes out for a route in the flats to convert the first down.
  • Everything Day's offense does has a purpose.

Other Observations from Saturday's Game:

  • Two plays weren't included that maybe should have been: 1) Fields' 42-yard touchdown strike to Wilson. He saw the wideout had one-on-one coverage without a safety over top, maneuvered in the pocket to avoid the lineman pushing Miller backward and delivered a picture-perfect pass. His deep ball placement seemed to have improved this weekend. 2) Smith-Njigba's ridiculous 5-yard touchdown where he barely got his right foot in bounds. This isn't a particularly bold prediction, but I think he finishes either third or fourth on the team in receptions this year before being first or second next season. He's a special talent and a smooth operator.
  • Both offensive tackles – Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere – had outstanding season debuts. They made few, if any, mistakes either in pass protection or when run blocking. The true test, though, comes with Penn State's defensive ends in Week 2. If Munford and Petit-Frere play well again, Ohio State might truly have a special offensive line.
  • The Buckeyes will need to see some improvement from Miller at left guard. He didn't have an outright bad game. But he was noticeably the most inconsistent of the five linemen. Now, we have to keep this in mind: He's just a true sophomore. Davis, Myers and Petit-Frere were all still backups their second year on campus. Miller's not, by any means, a finished product and will have some growing pains along the way.
  • I'll say it even if many of you don't believe it: Tuf Borland played a solid game. Yes, he had the one play where Martinez looked like a bull and he appeared to be the matador. But outside of that, he put himself in the right spot, hustled to make plays and did his job. 
  • Hooker made a big mistake by missing a tackle on the opening drive. Outside of that, he had a stellar starting debut, making every other possible tackle. Josh Proctor, conversely, continued to play aggressively and race downhill. It seems as though he's better suited to play closer to the line, which Matt Barnes talked about before the season. It doesn't appear in Ohio State's best interest to put him in too many situations that require him to prevent a big play by making a one-on-one tackle.
  • Jeremy Ruckert is not a one-dimensional tight end. The man can deliver some blows as a blocker. He and Luke Farrell are going to help this offense in innumerable ways even if they aren't breaking any reception records.
  • Because Nebraska didn't attack Ohio State through the air, we didn't get a good look at Hooker, Sevyn Banks and the other young defensive backs defending the pass. I think we'll learn a ton more about this Ohio State defense in Week 2 than we did in Week 1.
  • Steele Chambers ran the ball well on his four carries. Of note, however: He also had more room to operate on a couple of them than Teague and Sermon typically did. I'm intrigued to see him in some upcoming games. But I'm not, by any means, on the bandwagon that he should be the primary tailback. We're going to need to see more than four touches this season before that conversation picks up steam.
  • Tyreke Smith continues to be a bit of an enigma. He nearly recorded a sack in the fourth quarter, yet he also appeared a bit out of control when defending the run once or twice. This is a big year for him, and he'll be more important against better passing offenses. The Buckeyes will soon need some more pressure out of him.
  • Not sure why Zach Harrison only played 15 snaps. Perhaps it was due to Nebraska's desire to rely heavily on the run, which didn't necessitate the sophomore's pass-rushing abilities. 
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