The top of the billing says you’ve got Blackshirts in one corner, Silver Bullets in the other. The Big Ten’s No. 2 total defense entertaining No. 4, a pair of heavyweights slugging it out inside one of the league’s biggest cages.
So take the under with Nebraska-Ohio State and run with it, right?
Not so fast, champ.
When the No. 9 Cornhuskers (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) meet the No. 6 Buckeyes (7-1, 4-1) Saturday night in Columbus, a recurring narrative will be seeing what happens when two of the top three secondaries in the league — Nebraska leads the Big Ten in interceptions with 15, the Buckeyes are next with 12 — lock horns in the same venue.
But don’t pity the offensive coordinators just yet. Because when it comes to quarterbacks who know how to move the chains — as in, convert third downs with their arms or legs — the Huskers have the Big Ten’s most consistent producer in senior Tommy Armstrong. And Ohio State signal-caller J.T. Barrett ranks close behind at No. 2:
To wit: The Buckeyes head into Week 10 leading the conference in third-down conversion percentage (.500, 62-for-124) while Nebraska is nipping at their heels (.491, 56-for-114). The Big Red converted nine of 18 third-down opportunities in an overtime setback at No. 8 Wisconsin this past weekend, with Armstrong rallying past the Camp Randall din:
Tommy Armstrong making some big 3rd Down throws on this drive.
— Jake Nazar (@ATVS_JakeNazar) October 30, 2016
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes made good on 10 of 17 such chances in a 24-20 home victory over Northwestern, including a third-and-8 toss by Barrett for 16 yards to the Ohio State 43 and a 35-yard run on third-and-10 that effectively broke the underdogs’ backs:
J.T. Barrett breaks off a huge run on a crucial 3rd down! Buckeyes will be trying to run out the clock now. #NWvsOSU
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 29, 2016
— BTNStatsGuys (@BTNStatsGuys) October 29, 2016
The lesson? Don’t give up on a series if the first two plays happen to go belly up. Because with Armstrong and Barrett directing traffic, third down — with all those toys to play with, all those tools in the box within arm’s reach — is when the party really gets started.