J.T. Barrett and Tommy Armstrong both hail from Texas. The Ohio State and Nebraska quarterbacks are roughly the same size - about 6 feet 1 and 220 pounds. Both are adept at making plays with their legs as well as their arm and are considered charismatic leaders.

J.T. Barrett and Tommy Armstrong both hail from Texas.

The Ohio State and Nebraska quarterbacks are roughly the same size - about 6 feet 1 and 220 pounds. Both are adept at making plays with their legs as well as their arm and are considered charismatic leaders.

There the similarities end. What makes them effective can also make them maddening to their fan bases. Armstrong will sling it around in hopes of making big plays at the risk of interceptions. Barrett is viewed by some as overly cautious, inhibiting Ohio State from making big plays in the passing game.

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That contrast in styles will be on display Saturday night when No. 6 Ohio State plays No. 9 Nebraska at Ohio Stadium.

Barrett makes no apologies for not taking unnecessary chances. He has thrown only four interceptions this season.

"You don't want to put our defense in bad field position," Barrett said. "When things are going well offensively, you don't have to force anything. Early in the year when we were somewhat lagging, I'd try to make a play by forcing the ball, which ended up in an interception that we don't need."

Ohio State's personnel also plays a part. Last year, opponents concentrated on slowing running back Ezekiel Elliott. That opened possibilities in the passing game. Now, defenses are more apt to play farther off the ball. Last week, Northwestern played particularly soft coverage.

"It's hard to run past people if they're 10 yards off of you," Barrett said. "If they're 10 yards off of you before the snap and then after the snap they're even deeper, you can't beat them (deep)."

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Ohio State attempted only one deep pass last week, a throw that Barrett acknowledged was off-target.

The Buckeyes rank first in offense in the Big Ten and second in passing efficiency, which is the statistic that its coaches care most about.

"The reason we're not hitting the big plays is we don't force balls here," coach Urban Meyer said. "We just don't do that. We have to get better separation (from receivers) and the few times we have, it's been either protection (breakdowns) or we've misfired."

He said the Buckeyes showed what they could do against Oklahoma without forcing the ball.

"I like what's going on," Meyer said. "We just have to be more consistent hitting (deep balls)."

Armstrong and the Cornhuskers have had success with explosive plays this year. His average completion this year is 15.3 yards. The issue throughout his career is interceptions. He had 16 last year. He has made improvement this year with only seven.

Asked if he believed needed to be harnessed, Armstrong said, "I don't think so. I think it's just the trust I have in my players in one-on-one situations. Sometimes in one-on-one situations, it doesn't go well."

But Armstrong said that he has made an effort lately to take fewer risks.

"It happened a few times last week where I could have maybe thrown a deep pass to one of my receivers," he said. "I tucked the ball and ran for a few yards. I talked to my offensive coordinator (Danny Langsdorf) and said I wanted to throw it, but I'd rather use my feet than throw something up for grabs."

Nebraska coach Mike Riley would be happy to hear that.

"It's really about decision-making and split-second decisions that are made," Riley said. "He's definitely very conscious of it, but at the same time Tommy plays and competes like crazy.

"We have to blend his competitiveness and confidence with the choices he makes. He does a pretty good at that, but we continue to try to make that better."

Saturday's outcome could rest on it.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch