Nebraska Notebook: Luke Wypler Makes Game-Saving Fumble Recovery, Offensive Line Changes Made “By Necessity” and Garrett Wilson’s Status “Day-to-Day”

By Dan Hope on November 6, 2021 at 10:30 pm
Luke Wypler
Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK

If not for the hustle of Luke Wypler, Nebraska would have had the ball with a chance to beat Ohio State with less than two minutes to play in Saturday’s game.

Even though Ohio State had a six-point lead at the time and might have only needed one more first down to run the clock out and win the game, Ryan Day decided to dial up a pass play on 1st-and-10 from Nebraska’s 34-yard line. That decision backfired when Nebraska defensive end Garrett Nelson split Ohio State left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and left guard Thayer Munford to hit C.J. Stroud and knock the ball out of his hands.

Had Nebraska been able to recover the ball, it would have had the ball near midfield and still would have had all three of its timeouts to potentially mount a game-winning drive. Ohio State’s center saved the day, however, by chasing down the loose ball and sliding down to get his body on top of the ball and retain possession for the Buckeyes.

While Ohio State’s offensive linemen typically don’t do fumble recovery drills in practice, Wypler said his instincts kicked in when he saw the ball bounce out of Stroud’s grasp.

“The first instinct was go get it,” Wypler said. “So I tried to use some technique that I see the guys always using on their fumble drills. I don’t really participate in those. So just slide and try to grab it. That was really it. Holding on as hard as I could.”

Thanks to Wypler’s fumble recovery, Ohio State was ultimately able to get back into position for Noah Ruggles to make a 46-yard field goal that iced the 26-17 win for the Buckeyes. Had the Buckeyes lost the ball there, though, they would have been in real jeopardy of losing the game. Even so, Day said after the game that he didn’t regret his decision to call a passing play in that situation, saying that the Buckeyes simply need to execute the play better.

“We always mix it up and we’re gonna run and pass and whatever we feel like is the right call at that time,” Day said. “If we have a little bit more protection, there was something coming open there, I thought we had the right coverage and we just didn’t execute it. So we gotta do a better job there.”

Illness kept Dawand out of starting lineup

Ohio State made a change to its offensive line for the first two possessions of Saturday’s game, moving Munford back to left tackle and Petit-Frere back to right tackle – the positions they played last year – while Matt Jones made his second start of the season at left guard and Dawand Jones, who had started all of Ohio State’s first eight games at right tackle, began the game on the sideline.

That said, Dawand Jones ultimately entered the game at right tackle on Ohio State’s third possession and remained in the lineup for the rest of the day. Day said after the game that Jones didn’t start because he felt sick to his stomach before the game, but he was ultimately felt well enough to play the final three-plus quarters.

“He was feeling ill. He kind of had a little bit of a stomach thing and was struggling through that,” Day said. “So we were kind of moving those guys around. So it was a little bit helter skelter at some points in there. But they kind of worked through it and they gritted through it.”

Day also revealed after the game that Petit-Frere, who also came out of the game for 12 snaps on which Munford played left tackle and Matt Jones played left guard, missed some practice time during the week. As a result, Wypler was the only offensive lineman to play the entire game in one spot, as Matt Jones also played some snaps at right guard in place of Paris Johnson Jr. (Correction: This article initially stated that Petit-Frere played every snap of the game, which he did not.)

While Ohio State has been rotating on the offensive line in order to get Matt Jones playing time since its fifth game of the season against Rutgers, Day said the changes made to the lineup against Nebraska weren’t made because the Buckeyes wanted to use different lineups but because they were forced into that situation.

“We were kind of moving those guys around today a little bit, and that was not by choice, it was more by necessity,” Day said.

The shifting around up front certainly might have played a factor in Ohio State’s offensive line struggling for the second game in a row as Nebraska brought its share of pressure on Stroud over the course of the game while it limited the Buckeyes to just 90 rushing yards on 30 carries. Still, Day said there’s “no excuse” for the subpar play up front, and Wypler agreed that the offensive line needed to be better than it was against the Cornhuskers.

“The run game hasn’t been what it’s been earlier in the season, and I think as a unit, we kind of know, we understand that every game, the ball’s gonna try to be run behind us and we gotta get movement and get some yards per carry,” Wypler said. “So at the end of the day, yeah, we didn’t probably play our best, but we know now going into this week we gotta improve what we gotta improve on.”

Wilson’s return “day-to-day”

While his absence certainly wasn’t the only reason why Ohio State’s offense struggled against Nebraska, the Buckeyes were without one of their top offensive players against the Cornhuskers as Garrett Wilson, who was Ohio State’s leading receiver for the season entering Saturday’s game, did not make the trip to Lincoln.

Although he did not specify why Wilson was unavailable for Saturday’s game, Day said he is hopeful Wilson will be back on the field for next weekend’s game against Purdue.

“I think it’ll probably go to day-to-day starting tomorrow, and hopefully we get him back for next week,” Day said.

With Wilson out of the lineup against Nebraska, most of his targets went to Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who caught a school-record 15 passes for 240 yards, highlighted by a 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run. But even though it led to a big day for him individually, Smith-Njigba said he missed playing alongside his fellow Texan in Ohio State’s receiving corps against Nebraska.

“I love playing with Garrett,” Smith-Njigba said. “It hurt me a little bit not to be on the field with him today because that’s my brother and I love watching him play. He’s a great receiver.”

Julian Fleming made his first season of the start in place of Wilson and caught two passes for 22 yards – not including a fourth-quarter grab on the sideline that would have been a 26-yard catch but was ruled to be incomplete – while Marvin Harrison Jr. also saw substantial playing time in rotation with Fleming and caught two passes for 25 yards.

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