LINCOLN, Neb. — Memorial Stadium got real quiet, real fast, which tends to happen when watching a loved one get leveled by a natural disaster.
Or unnatural disaster, when the calamity arrives in scarlet and gray. Ohio State is not normal. In the way that a hurricane is not normal. Or a tornado. Or the Incredible Hulk, who does not fit the weather analogy but is uncommonly freakish all the same. (Herbie and Chris Fowler must agree. The ABC duo, due to a technical abnormality, appeared to be sporting green hands during the broadcast.)Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
The point is, punishing a once-mighty Nebraska to the tune of 48-7 is unnatural. Somewhere, Frank Solich is shaking his head: “I was the problem? Really?”
It’s not supposed to be this easy. Nebraska isn’t Clemson, but neither are the Cornhuskers supposed to be Rutgers. But squint hard and Nebraska looked a lot like the Scarlet Nots.
Or maybe it was more that the Buckeyes are playoff contenders who resemble the sneering brutes from “A Christmas Story” — before they received their comeuppance. No doubt OSU struck fear and loathing into the warm hearts of the NDFITL (Nicest Damn Fans in the Land).
Will Ohio State receive a similar Scut Farkus just reward? I don’t see it. The Buckeyes are too good on both sides of the ball to have their noses bloodied by anyone, including Alabama, Oklahoma and Clemson, which nearly spit the bit against North Carolina on Saturday.
Closer to home, Wisconsin is coming soon to a Horseshoe near you and Penn State is better than advertised, but Ohio State showed at Nebraska that it’s going to take a flawless game by any Big Ten opponent, or a trap-game meltdown like Purdue last season — a “slip-up” that “we’re not doing again this year,” quarterback Justin Fields said — to come within single digits of testing this team.
That’s objectivity talking, not arrogance. On a team with this many difference-makers, good luck picking your poison. Fields (284 total yards, four touchdowns). J.K. Dobbins (177 yards rushing). Master Teague — he’s now Mister Teague to you, Huskers — K.J. Hill, Austin Mack, Garrett Wilson. And then there’s the O-line that is better than any in recent memory.
And that’s just on offense.
The defense might be even better. The Buckeyes surrendered 231 total yards, including only 47 through the air, to a Cornhuskers offense that put up nearly 700 yards last week against Illinois.
One man can change an entire game plan. Think Orlando Pace, Peyton Manning, Deion Sanders and Lawrence Taylor (YouTube him, kids, but trust me and bypass the gruesome video of LT snapping the lower leg of quarterback Joe Theismann).
NFL offensive coordinators designed schemes specifically with Taylor in mind. They’re doing the same with Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.
“He’s a complete game-changer,” Ohio State defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley said of Young. “You can’t block him one-on-one. You better not try to, because if you do you’re going to pay. He allows us to do more in coverage without getting too risky, per se.”
Earlier in the week, Buckeyes receivers coach Brian Hartline spoke of Young as if he were forced to face him.
“Chase Young is an example of how our clock is going to be sped up a little bit,” Hartline said. “We understand it’s a special situation, whether that means we go full depth (on passing routes) or not as much depth. Maybe there’s a little more urgency, understanding the quarterback is going to get more pressure. Maybe the running back coming out of the backfield chips on his way out.”
Young leads the nation with eight sacks. Early against the Cornhuskers, he pressured quarterback Adrian Martinez into an off-balance throw that Jeff Okudah intercepted. Imagine how much better an already excellent defensive line would be if Nick Bosa were still around. Scary.
“You have to know who you’re going up against, so you study each position and know where they are,” Fields said of difference-makers like Young. “You have to be aware of them, but you can’t have them in the back of your mind on every play. Just go out and not worry about them.”
Not worry? Easier said than done with Young. And these Buckeyes.