Thursday, October 4, 2012
Five storylines: Ohio State-Nebraska
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A look at the hot topics and pressing concerns as Ohio State prepares to welcome Nebraska for another top-25 clash in the Big Ten at Ohio Stadium on Saturday (TV: ABC, 8 p.m.).
B1G battle: The Buckeyes made their case as the class of the conference by going on the road and beating their closest challenger in the polls. But that win will have a short shelf life if they don't back it up against the Huskers, who simply stepped up to replace Michigan State as the next team in line in the rankings after coming from behind to hold off Wisconsin last week. Ohio State obviously can't appear in the conference title game, but if it can get through its two-week stretch to open league play by knocking off consecutive contenders for that crown, it will have firmly established itself at the top of the food chain.
Familiar foe: Bo Pelini might not be in the mood for nostalgia, but there is no shortage of history for the Nebraska coach both with the opponent and the coach on the other sideline. Pelini is an Ohio State alum, for one, and his time on campus briefly overlapped with Urban Meyer when the latter was working as a graduate assistant for Earle Bruce -- the coach who recruited the former to play for the program. Meyer has also matched wits with the fellow Ohio native, having schemed against Pelini's defense at LSU when both were coaching in the SEC.
Trigger men: The quarterbacks aren't exactly mirror images, but there aren't many guys around the nation who could watch the other guy work and find so many similarities. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez isn't running as much as Braxton Miller so far this season, but he's just as dangerous when a play breaks down and he needs to make something happen with his feet. Miller perhaps hasn't been quite as efficient throwing the ball as Martinez early in the year, but he has delivered game-breaking passes seemingly every time the Buckeyes have needed it. There won't be many better matchups between multipurpose quarterbacks than the one at Ohio Stadium this week.
Eyes up front: At a minimum, the memory of a slow start on the Ohio State defensive line is starting to fade away. The way the Buckeyes shut down Michigan State and star rusher Le'Veon Bell a week ago, it might be totally forgotten. Injuries, some inexperienced backups and quick-passing offenses contributed to a lack of pressure and a few long runs allowed through the first few weeks of the season, but the Buckeyes appear to be getting stronger in the trenches as the season progresses. Getting Nathan Williams back to health at one end has obviously helped, and if Michael Bennett can shake a groin injury that kept him out of the first four games and slowed him against the Spartans, Ohio State could produce something worth remembering.
Give and take: The celebration hadn't even ended outside the Ohio State locker room last week when the coaches started offering a reminder to their quarterback about the importance of protecting the football. Turning it over three times isn't the best recipe for winning games in the Big Ten, even if the Buckeyes survived with Miller handing it over that often against the Spartans. Overall, Ohio State is still on the positive side this season with its turnover margin -- a place where the Huskers would certainly like to be. Through five games, they've lost nine fumbles and thrown two interceptions, and an opportunistic Buckeyes defense will be looking to add to that total.