Preview: Ohio State Begins Final Month of Regular Season with Road Test Against Nebraska

By Dan Hope on November 5, 2021 at 8:35 am
Garrett Wilson vs. Deontai Williams in 2020
Joseph Maiorana – USA TODAY Sports

As Ohio State begins the final month of the regular season, Ryan Day has been using an event that takes place in an entirely different month as a metaphor for how important it is for the Buckeyes to win this week.

Saturday’s game is Ohio State’s first game of November, a month that will define the Buckeyes’ regular season. While Ohio State enters the month with a 7-1 record, it needs to win all of its final four games of the regular season to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive. So as Ohio State has prepared for this week’s game at Nebraska, Day has preached the importance of winning this week as if the Buckeyes are preparing to play a game in the NCAA basketball tournament.

“It is truly like March Madness right now,” Day said. “If you win, you move on. And we have to look at every game that way.”

3-6 (1-5 B1G)



It’s easy to look ahead to what’s still ahead for the Buckeyes, especially now that the first College Football Playoff rankings have been released. Games against third-ranked Michigan State and seventh-ranked Michigan at the end of the month are supposed to be the real tests for Ohio State, not this week’s game against a team that’s 3-6. That said, Day has made it clear this week that he doesn’t want his fifth-ranked team thinking that way.

After all, the Cornhuskers have already proven they can play top-10 teams tough. Even though they’ve already played Michigan State, Michigan and eighth-ranked Oklahoma, they haven’t lost a game by more than eight points. And the film has shown both Day and his players that Nebraska is a better team than its record indicates.

“Their record doesn’t really purvey what they put on film,” C.J. Stroud said Thursday. “So we just have to stay on our P’s and Q’s and really lock in and realize that every game is like March Madness. If you win, you move on. If you lose, you go home. So we’re really focused. We’ve never been more motivated before. So we’re just gonna keep the ball rolling.”

The Headlines

Avoiding the trap game

Coming off of a tough win over Penn State, this week is all about avoiding a letdown. The Buckeyes learned that lesson all too well in 2017 – a season that played out in extremely similar fashion to this season through its first eight games – when they suffered a 55-24 loss at Iowa one week after a 39-38 win over Penn State.

Going on the road to play a team that’s seemingly better than its record indicates is the recipe that often leads to a trap game. That said, the Buckeyes haven’t lost a single Big Ten game nor a regular season road game yet in Day’s tenure as head coach. For the last three years, Ohio State has avoid the unexpected losses to unranked teams that struck Urban Meyer’s last three teams in Columbus, and Day needs to make sure that remains the case this week as the Buckeyes play their second-to-last road game of the regular season.

“You watch across the country, week in and week out, a lot of things have happened this year,” Day said. “So we can’t let that happen to us, and we can’t have any regrets. And the only way to do that is to focus on right now and not be distracted. If you start looking ahead, if you start worrying about tomorrow, that’s where you get distracted, and we’ve gotta stay disciplined in that area.”

Offense looks to regain its stride

Ohio State’s offense certainly wasn’t terrible against Penn State – the Buckeyes put up more points (33) and yards (466) than any other team has against the Nittany Lions this season – but it wasn’t nearly as efficient as it had been for the rest of October. After a three-game stretch against Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana in which Ohio State’s first-team offense scored 20 touchdowns in 24 possessions and was forced to punt just once, the Buckeyes scored just two offensive touchdowns in 12 possessions against Penn State.

Specifically, the Buckeyes struggled in the red zone against Penn State, as they scored a touchdown on just one of their six drives in which they ran plays from inside the Nittany Lions’ 20-yard line. And it was clear that Ohio State’s coaching staff wasn’t satisfied with the offensive performance against Penn State’s defense when it declined to name an offensive player of the game and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba was the only offensive player to grade out as a champion.

Stroud and Smith-Njigba are among the Buckeyes who have said they believe Ohio State has the best offense in the country, but they didn’t perform up to their standard last week, which will give them more motivation to prove themselves all over again this week.

“We just gotta go in and play better,” Chris Olave said. “It definitely is motivation, but we just gotta play better at the end of the day.”

They’ll face another test on Saturday, though, as they go up against a Nebraska defense that ranks 23rd in yards allowed per play (4.97) and 26th in points allowed per game (20.3) this season. Those numbers aren’t as good as Penn State’s, but they’re better than any other team Ohio State has faced except Minnesota, so the Buckeyes need to be prepared for another game where scoring might not come as easily as it has in most games this season.

“I think they’re very good on defense. They’re very well-coached,” Day said. “They have a good scheme, good players. Several guys are NFL players in my opinion. They mix up the looks. And then when you look at the way that they’ve played against most teams, I think they’re 27th in the country in scoring defense, and they’ve played everybody tough. So we’re gonna have to earn it and do a good job on third down, do a good job in the red zone.”

Nebraska trying to stave off another losing season

Although the Cornhuskers certainly aren’t playing for a College Football Playoff berth and a Big Ten title like Ohio State is, they still have something to play for – at least for this week. Nebraska needs to beat Ohio State on Saturday to keep its hopes alive of playing in a bowl game this year; if the Buckeyes win on Saturday, the Cornhuskers will clinch their fifth consecutive losing season, which would be the fourth straight losing season since Scott Frost became coach.

Perhaps more than anything else, the Cornhuskers just want to prove they can win a big game after so many one-score losses this year.

“We are going to continue to fight,” Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez said this week. “We know what we are capable of. The execution that it will take on Saturday for us to get the win.”

Almost winning games doesn’t mean much, and the Cornhuskers have repeatedly failed to make the plays they need to make to win competitive games. At the same time, the Cornhuskers have only been a few plays away from beating some of the best teams in the country and having a winning record – and because of that, Day says the Buckeyes can’t afford to take them lightly.

“This is a very, very good Nebraska team that we have to be ready for. I don’t care what the record says. I watched the film and they’re good, they have good coaches, so we gotta have a great week of practice,” Day said.

Keep An Eye on These Guys

Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez

Ohio State and its fans should be plenty familiar with Martinez by now, as this will be the fourth time he plays against the Buckeyes since becoming the Cornhuskers’ starting quarterback in 2018.

Martinez has had mixed results in three previous games against the Buckeyes, throwing for just 152 combined yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions in his last two games against Ohio State. That said, he has consistently made plays with his legs against Ohio State, running for 238 yards and three touchdowns in three games against the Buckeyes, so Ohio State’s defenders know they need to be prepared for his dual-threat skill set.

“We know he’s a running quarterback, so just got to cage the pocket and just keep him in the pocket and just don’t let him try to get out the pocket and run,” defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson said. “If he does, then he’s a dangerous guy. So we just got to keep him in the pocket and make him throw.”

Martinez had a bad game against Purdue last week, when he completed less than half of his passes (14-of-29) and threw four interceptions. Even still, Martinez is statistically having the best season of his Nebraska career to date. He has completed 62.5 percent of his passes (150-of-240) for 2,264 yards and 12 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. He also leading the Cornhuskers in rushing with 451 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Nebraska WR Samori Touré

While Martinez and many of Nebraska’s other players are familiar faces to the Buckeyes, Touré a new weapon Ohio State’s defense will have to account for this year. A transfer from Montana, where he set a school record with 1,495 receiving yards in his final season with the Grizzlies, Touré is Nebraska’s leading receiver this season with 568 yards and three touchdowns on 29 catches.

At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Touré is capable of challenging Ohio State’s secondary with his length and speed. Tied for the Big Ten lead with three receptions of 60-plus yards this year, he’s shown plenty of big-play ability for the Cornhuskers, and he usually lines up in the slot, which could force the Buckeyes to shift some things around defensively to make covering him a top priority.

Nebraska LB JoJo Domann

The highest-graded player on Nebraska’s defense per Pro Football Focus, Domann is listed as a linebacker but often lines up as an edge rusher or as a slot cornerback for the Cornhuskers. Regardless of where he’s started plays from, Domann has made plays all over the field for Nebraska this season, recording 64 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.

A sixth-year senior, Domann has played against Ohio State four times before – his first game appearance against the Buckeyes in 2016 actually predated Day’s arrival at Ohio State – but Day has been particularly impressed by what he’s seen from Domann this season.

“Good player. Really good. Versatile,” Domann said. “He can play in the run, he can play in the pass, he can cover. I got a lot of respect for him. I think he’ll be a long NFL player. You can tell he really sees things and diagnoses plays well. We’ve played against him in the past for several years, but he’s playing his best football right now.”

If the Cornhuskers are able to keep Ohio State’s offense in check on Saturday, Domann will likely have a lot to do with that.

Game Week Talk

“It’s not the Shoe of course, but it’s as loud as any other place can get.”– Ohio State safety Bryson Shaw

Shaw was on the travel roster in 2019 when the Buckeyes last played on the road at Nebraska, and the loud environment at Memorial Stadium made a lasting impression on him. Lincoln should be loud once again for Saturday’s game as the Cornhuskers are anticipating their 381st consecutive sellout.

“Overall they are a good team, especially athletic-wise, they’re going to move pretty quickly. But we can play with them. Over the past years we’ve been in the game with them. So we’re going to be right here with them again.”– Nebraska nose tackle Damion Daniels

Even though Nebraska has lost its six straight games against Ohio State, and five of those games have been decided by 25 points or more, several Cornhuskers expressed confidence this week that they can challenge for an upset over the Buckeyes this year.

“We are excited to be able to play them. It’s just a great opportunity. We could do a lot of damage.”– Nebraska defensive tackle Casey Rogers

The Cornhuskers know they could ruin Ohio State’s playoff hopes if they beat the Buckeyes on Saturday, and Rogers is excited about the chance to play spoiler, saying that a win would be “a really big deal” and games like this are “why you come to Nebraska.”

Projected Starters
Ohio State Pos Nebraska

Get Smart

  • Ohio State is 8-1 all-time against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers’ only victory over the Buckeyes came in 2011, when Nebraska won 34-27.
  • Saturday’s noon game will be the first-ever afternoon game Ohio State has played at Nebraska. Each of the Buckeyes’ previous three games in Lincoln were night games.
  • Ohio State has won 26 consecutive games against Big Ten opponents (including Big Ten Championship Games) dating back to its 49-20 loss to Purdue on Oct. 20, 2018.
  • The Buckeyes have won their last 12 consecutive true road games, the longest road winning streak in the country, including a Big Ten-record 11 straight road wins by double digits.
  • This is the final year of a six-year stretch in which Ohio State will play Nebraska every year. The Buckeyes’ next scheduled game against Nebraska is not until 2024, when they will meet in Lincoln again.
  • Former Ohio State cornerback Tyreke Johnson now plays for Nebraska, but has appeared in only one game this season.
  • Nebraska’s roster includes one player from Ohio: starting right guard Matt Sichterman, a Cincinnati native. Ohio State’s roster includes no players from Nebraska.
  • Ohio State’s status report of unavailable players will be released at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

How It Plays Out

Line: Ohio State -15, O/U 66

While a simple look at the two teams’ records would suggest that Ohio State should blow out Nebraska on Saturday, the fact that the Cornhuskers haven’t suffered a double-digit loss all year is reason to believe this game will be at least semi-competitive.

Ohio State’s offense will surely be looking to put up a big number after last week’s game, but Nebraska has already held three top-10 teams below their scoring averages this season, limiting Oklahoma and Michigan State to 23 points each and Michigan to 32. Nebraska’s defense probably won’t be as capable of keeping Ohio State out of the end zone as Penn State was, but the Buckeyes should expect to face more resistance from Nebraska’s defense than they did against the Scarlet Knights, Terrapins and Hoosiers.

Nebraska’s offense is capable of doing some damage against Ohio State’s defense, but the Cornhuskers have only reached 30 points twice this season while the Buckeyes have held all of their last six opponents to 24 points or fewer. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Martinez lead the Cornhuskers into the end zone two or three times, but anything more than that would mean a big disappointment for the Buckeye D.

Vegas has Ohio State winning Saturday’s game by just over two touchdowns, and that seems about right. While everyone on the Eleven Warriors staff predicts that Ohio State will win Saturday’s game by at least 14 points, only five of our 14 staffers have the Buckeyes winning by more than 21 points.

If the Buckeyes can come out firing on all cylinders in Lincoln, a lopsided affair is certainly possible, as all but one of the last six games over Nebraska have been. That would be a departure from all nine games Nebraska has played so far this season, though.

Eleven Warriors Staff Prediction
42   21
View 64 Comments