It may not have been an overly impressive effort from the Buckeyes from start to finish, but Ohio State handed Nebraska a loss for the seventh straight time in the all-time series between the two programs Saturday.
Ohio State escaped Lincoln with a 26-17 win against the Huskers, who tallied their seventh single-digit loss of the season, but Buckeye head coach Ryan Day thought the margin of victory could have been wider if not for some of the execution issues on offense.
The Buckeyes scored just two touchdowns on offense for the second straight week, struggled to run the ball and settled for four field goals in the gritty win.
“We’re gonna watch it and think, ‘Boy, we could’ve won it by three touchdowns or more if cleaned some things up,’” Day said after the game. “But this is a good team, they’re a good defense. We knew that coming in. I said that, and I believe it.”
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud had his third 400-yard passing game of the year, and added two more touchdowns to his season total. However, Stroud also threw two picks – his first since Sept. 18 against Tulsa – and wished he could have a few plays on Saturday.
“I’m not smiling right now, because of course I wanted to do more, and I feel like I shouldn’t have forced the ball on some of those plays,” Stroud said. “I’m happy we won at the end of the day. You win, you move on, it’s like March Madness. Definitely got to enjoy the win, but we have to play a lot better.”
Stroud faced more pressure than usual against Nebraska, and was flushed out of the pocket on several occasions. Perhaps to the chagrin of some Buckeye fans, though, Stroud rarely opted to pick up yards upfield using his legs. When asked after the game if he thought there were opportunities to run the ball, Stroud was rather direct with his answer.
“Nah, not at all. If my job was to run the ball, I’d be a running back or something,” Stroud said. “I throw the ball for a living. Sometimes, of course, it might look obvious when you throw the ball and everybody runs to the ball, ‘Oh, he should have ran it.’ But I feel like I do my job when my number’s called.”
One particularly tumultuous series of events occurred late in the Buckeyes’ win, when Day opted to throw the ball on a fourth quarter first down with Ohio State up 23-17 with less than two minutes to play. Stroud was sacked on a dropback and fumbled the ball, but redshirt freshman center Luke Wypler saved the Buckeyes from catastrophe by falling on it to retain possession.
“C.J. was rolling out, he had some pressure behind him and the ball came out. Loose ball, and first instinct was to go and get it,” Wypler said.”Try to use some technique that I see the guys always use in their fumble drills, I mean, I don’t really participate in those. So, just slide and try to grab it, that was really it. Hold on as hard as I could.”
North Carolina kicker Noah Ruggles was vital to the Buckeyes’ success for a second straight game, as his four field goals – including two 46-yarders – made him the first Ohio State player to make at least four field goals in consecutive weeks.
“The kicker got 10 Buckeye leaves last week,” defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said after the game. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a kicker get 10 Buckeye leaves.”
In fact, Day went as far as to call Ruggles a “weapon” for the Ohio State offense as of late. Following the aforementioned Stroud fumble in the fourth quarter, Ruggles effectively iced the game with a field goal that gave the Buckeyes a 26-17 lead late. Ruggles has yet to miss a field goal or an extra point in an Ohio State uniform.
“He’s become a weapon for us. And that’s huge,” Day said. “You have to have that in big games when it gets tight. You’d like to sit here and think you’re gonna blow out every team. It doesn’t work that way. These teams are too good. And so every point counts, every possession counts and to get three points is huge, especially when your defense is playing well like they did today.”
As important as Ruggles was in the win, the Buckeye defense put forth another impressive effort as well. The Ohio State defensive line limited the Huskers to 3.3 yards per carry on the ground, and Adrian Martinez was sacked five times on the day.
Ohio State secondary coach and defensive play caller Matt Barnes credited Buckeye defensive line coach Larry Johnson for the latest standout performance from his unit.
“Larry Johnson’s the best defensive line coach in the history of college football, in my opinion,” Barnes said. “In some cases, if we can just make the quarterback hold the ball for an extra count, then those rushers really get to show up. Defense isn't played in a vacuum; the front helps the secondary, the secondary helps the front, and I think the last couple games we’ve had a chance to work in chorus with each other and make some plays.”
Senior defensive end Tyreke Smith had a sack, a quarterback and a quarterback hurry in the game, and thought he might have had an even bigger day if not for a couple holding penalties that were not called against Nebraska.
“It’s annoying not getting calls sometimes, especially when I feel like they're blatant,” Smith said. “But I just keep playing, keep rushing. I don’t let that affect me or stop rushing or something like that, because then that’s the one rush I’m not locked in or not going 100 percent. I don’t really try to let it get to me. I say something to the ref one time, and then I just let it go, I just play my game. If it’s not falling in my hands and the call’s not going my way, then I’m fine, as long as I’m still making an impact.”
Now on a seven-game win streak, the Buckeyes head back home to take on the upset-minded Purdue Boilermakers next week.
- #5 Ohio State 26, Nebraska 17
- • Ohio State Survives a Scare in Lincoln
- • Jaxon Smith-Njigba Breaks Ohio State's Single Game Receptions Record
- • Noah Ruggles Was Crucial For the Buckeyes in Back-to-Back Games
- • Ohio State's Red Zone Woes Continue
- • Ohio State Postgame • Notebook • Quotebook
- • Photos • Five Things • Debriefing • 3 Key Stats • Social Reactions