Few things are more enjoyable than the chance to be inside a college football stadium on a Saturday. Especially when it’s the chance to watch Ohio State.
The pageantry of college football is unmatched in American sports. Up close, it’s awe-inspiring, especially watching it from the sidelines, a way that most folks only dream about. Because I’m really, really fortunate, I get to do that every weekend.
When you’re watching it from the sidelines, though, there are things you’re sure to miss. That’s why it’s important to get home and watch it again from the couch. With a beer.
That’s what I’m doing now, taking a few hours to have a Scarlet and Gray replay, and seeing things that might’ve been missed at first glance during Ohio State’s 62-3 thrashing of Nebraska. It’s 4:15 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and I’m settled in with a cold beverage, my trusty canine companion and the remote control.
Let’s rewatch Ohio State and Nebraska, which took place on an absolutely pristine night in Columbus. Nearly 60 degrees at kickoff for a November football game in Ohio? Yes, please.
First Quarter — Ohio State comes out hot
Let’s start with something away from the field, kind of. After last week’s snoozefest with Northwestern, I was fairly criticial in this space – and others – about the lack of energy from Ohio State’s home crowd. I will say right away — both in the stadium and watching now on TV — that this game against Nebraska felt totally different. I’ve heard from multiple people who said it was the best atmosphere they’ve ever experienced at Ohio Stadium, and I totally agree. Ohio State did a great job setting an incredible scene, the weather was phenomenal and the crowd was alive from the start.
The contrast in Mike Riley and Urban Meyer pregame is pretty wild. Riley seemed pretty “happy to be there” in his talk with sideline reporter Samantha Ponder where Urban looks like he was going to rip someone’s head off.
I wasn’t sure about these uniforms Ohio State was wearing, but boy oh boy, they are gorgeous.
Nebraska attempted to calm the crowd early and getting to this first third-and-3, one first down early may have done that. Instead, they got the defensive equivalent of a Cardale Jones to Devin Smith uppercut that Wisconsin received in the first quarter of the 2014 Big Ten title game. Raekwon McMillan doesn’t make the “big” plays according to fans, but he’s proven repeatedly that he reads the passing game well enough to impact it. His tip, followed by blanket coverage by Marshon Lattimore, leads to a quick, pick-six for Damon Webb.
It’s impressive that Nebraska, after that start, came out and moved the ball on its second drive, even it was just few strokes of luck. The penalty for pass interference against Gareon Conley was questionable, but if officials get a chance to throw the laundry, they will. The Huskers, victimized by the tip drill on the interception, get a good bounce and get a big first down. Still, this game doesn’t feel like a fair fight early. Nebraska looks, and is playing, like it didn’t expect this kind of speed, size, and athleticism from the Buckeyes. Plus the crowd.
Robert Landers continues to amaze me with his ability to get quick pressure up the middle and nearly broke up a screen pass on that drive. Malik Hooker may be known for his coverage skills, but he’s really developed into a bad man in run support. He’s got a knack for it and is proving to be a very complete safety. Ohio State holds Nebraska to a field goal and finally, halfway through the first quarter, J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes offense will get the ball. Parris Campbell set them up nicely, which is crazy considering how severe the injury to his ankle against Northwestern looked.
The Buckeyes are working early to stop the complaints. A pass, in the intermediate passing zone, to Curtis Samuel? Check, check, check. I personally believe the Ohio State offense is best with Mike Weber in the backfield alongside Barrett and Samuel – and Dontre Wilson – lined up at wide receiver with Noah Brown and Parris Campbell. That gives Samuel the most ways to touch the ball in different ways and that’s what has to happen, he’s average almost a first down (9.5 yards) per touch this year. That’s bananas.
Anyway, good field position (didn’t have that much the last few weeks) led to confident play calling this drive. Ohio State tried to shoot itself in the foot with a first down hold on center Pat Elflein and a dumb delay of game penalty, but Barrett found Wilson for a huge 22-yard gain on third-and-20.
I’ve got bad news for Nebraska: it’s the really good version of J.T. Barrett tonight at Ohio Stadium and you’re in trouble. He did a great job extending the play on a 7-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin and the Buckeyes are off and running. It’s 14-3 after one quarter but if Nebraska’s offense is predicated only on trying to hit deep passes, this will turn into a mess quickly. Even if they hit every so often.
First quarter keys
- QB J.T. Barrett was decisive and accurate with the ball.
- One touch for Mike Weber. Five touches for Curtis Samuel for 45 yards.
- No sacks from the Buckeyes, but good pressure on Tommy Armstrong.
Second Quarter — It’s going to get ugly
Nebraska is trying to run the ball, but that’s just not going to work. They do not have the big, strong back like a Corey Clement or Saquon Barkley, and that’s what can beat Ohio State’s front seven. The Huskers continue to try to beat the Buckeyes deep, and that’s not going to work often, either.
Ohio State takes a shot downfield, threatening to stretch out the Nebraska defense. That’s a good sign and shows some growing confidence not only in Barrett but also the Buckeyes’ offensive line. On this touchdown drive (9 plays), Ohio State went to Samuel (run), Samuel (run), Samuel (incomplete pass), Samuel (pass), Weber (run), Weber (run), Wilson (pass), Samuel (incomplete pass), Barrett (run), Weber (23-yard touchdown run).
The drive could have ended two plays earlier if Barrett was accurate on the deep ball to Samuel, but that drive was just a “stop us if you can” and Nebraska couldn’t. That’s not a good sign if you’re rooting for ol’ Big Red. Neither is starting a drive at your own 5-yard line. Three-and-out and the rout may be on as Ohio State starts at the Nebraska 31-yard line.
I really felt like the Buckeyes should’ve went for the throat on the first play after the punt, rather than slowing the offense down, but they tried it on the second play. Again, Barrett misses but it’s preventing Nebraska from stacking the box against the run. Mike Weber was wide open but an undeterred linebacker forced Barrett to hurry a throw and he missed it badly. Unfortunate because that was a pretty play called at the right moment.
Ohio State settles for a field goal, which has to feel like a “victory” for the Huskers. The Buckeyes had a number of chances to score here, including a missed read by Barrett on first down, and ball that Binjimen Victor needs to catch cleanly in the end zone on third down. I thought Victor caught it live — impressive since he was being interfered with and faced guarded — but I can see how it wasn’t overturned. Still, it’s 24-3 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes defense is starting to dominate the football game but Dontre Wilson’s sudden inability to catch a punt gives them another life. I suppose Wilson has a football version of the yips and he’s going to lose his opportunity to return punts the rest of the way. There are times when a guy is so anxious to make a play, but the risk vs. reward with Wilson returning punts isn’t worth it. It was worth it with Jalin Marshall back there.
The injury to Tommy Armstrong was scary. I was standing about five yards from him on the sideline and the sound his body made when it hit the ground was able to be heard over the crowd and noise in the stadium. Knowing he ended up being OK, you can look at the injury from a football point of view and you could just see it suck what little life Nebraska had in it right out. Ryker Fyfe, the Cornhuskers’ backup QB, has a great name but zero chance to scare the Ohio State defense.
As the Buckeyes take over after stopping Nebraska on downs, it’s pretty clear that this game is pretty much over. In the final drive of the half, it was great to see Ohio State give Barrett the chance to open it up. He threw ten passes in 15 plays, finding Samuel, Parris Campbell, A.J. Alexander and Noah Brown. The Buckeyes pushed the clock to the limit and Meyer’s favorite play with Tim Tebow, the jump pass, sealed the drive and makes it 31-7 at the break. A 15-play, 85 yard drive to end the half is a killer.
What a half of football by Ohio State.
Second quarter keys
- No Ohio State penalties.
- 147 yards for the Buckeyes to 20 for Nebraska
- The balance Ohio State had been missing offensively is making a return. In the first half, the Buckeyes had 123 passing yards and 114 rushing.
- Eight second quarter touches for Curtis Samuel, giving him 12 for the game.
Third Quarter — Knockout punches delivered
The Buckeyes wasted no time in delivering a knockout blow to Nebraska. One play, 75 yards to Curtis Samuel and it’s 38-3 Ohio State. Great adjustment by Samuel on the ball — it was a touch under thrown — and then he had the strength to separate for the score. Back-to-back plays by the Buckeyes result in a Curtis Samuel score. Fun. Nebraska goes three-and-out again and Ohio State gets the ball back at its own 13-yard line, but at this point, they know they can score from anywhere on the field and any way they want to.
Nine plays later (six passes) it’s 45-3 Ohio State. J.T. Barrett is spreading the ball all over the field and not relying solely on Samuel. He finds K.J. Hill, Marcus Baugh, Mike Weber and Noah Brown for a 6-yard touchdown. It’s important for Ohio State, with the game in hand, for two reasons. First, it gets the younger players minutes and it keeps everyone focused on execution. They’ve tried repeatedly to deepen the roster, but close game after close game has prevented it to a degree. That won’t be the case tonight.
After another three-and-out by the Huskers, Barrett heads back out to the field. With a 45-3 lead, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see Joe Burrow out there. Barrett goes back in though, for more situational work. It’s almost like watching a completely different offense this week. I don’t know if it’s a Meyer getting more involved in play-calling or if it’s just a perfect storm for the Buckeyes.
Demario McCall, Dontre Wilson, K.J. Hill, A.J. Alexander again, Binjimen Victor, and Corey Smith all get touches. There’s a serious commitment to spreading the ball around in this game and that is a major boost to the Buckeyes.
Malik Hooker is so good its unbelievable. In my 30 or so years of intently watching Ohio State football, I’ve never seen a defensive back with the ball skills he has, whether with the ball in the air or in his hands. I’d love to see him with the ball on offense, and I mean that. He has incredible vision and an ability to read blocks, change speeds, etc. It’s remarkable. He’s a Top 10 pick in the NFL draft next year.
Third quarter keys
- Ohio State has depth emerging.
- Curtis Samuel had two touches, one of them coming on a punt return. That’s 14 total touches for the game, 178 total yards.
- Nebraska had 15 yards of offense in the third quarter. Ohio State had 208. So, second and third quarters combined, we saw 35 yards for the Huskers and 355 for the Buckeyes. Yikes.
Fourth Quarter — It’s over, thank goodness, it’s over
I’m not going to go through the whole fourth quarter because I’m already over 2,000 words here, but I will try to touch on a few other thoughts I’ve had watching this game.
- I thought Denzel Ward played a great game, maybe his best of the year.
- Same for Chris Worley.
- For Joe Burrow to get a full quarter of offense is pretty great news. Multiple family members of his played at Nebraska and it’s cool he got to find the end zone against them. Ohio State coaches rave about his toughness and in limited time on Saturday night, he put that on display.
- Jordan Fuller played really well, and not just on special teams. He led the Buckeyes in tackles for the game and he’s a guy that is going to be key for Ohio State next season.
- Neither team had a sack in the game, which is kind of crazy. Still, Ohio State’s pass rush did manage to force the situation a few times.
- I’ve said it before, but this is as good as any group of defensive backs in Ohio State history.
- It was really big for the Buckeyes backups to get a stop on fourth down and not allow a touchdown. Those guys work really hard and I know it matters to them that they didn’t break after bending a bit.
- K.J. Hill should continue to be a bigger part of the Buckeyes offense.
- A.J. Alexander is finally healthy and should add another good option for Ohio State moving forward.
- I wonder who will replace Joe Burger and Craig Fada next year. Those guys are so important to this roster.
- Meyer was in a much better mood all last week than anyone expected and I guess we know why. He loves November and he loves having a team that needs to improve. That’s when he’s at his best. I think it’s clear he enjoys this kind of roster, inexperienced and hungry, over last year’s.