Nebraska's big plays have OSU's attention
As thorough as Ohio State’s defensive coaches and players like to think they are in preparing for games, one area where they have been inadequate is lightning detection.
Thirteen times this season — including three times in the fourth quarter of a 49-20 loss at Purdue two weeks ago — the Buckeyes have given up a run (seven) or pass (six) of 40 yards or more. Nine of those have gone for touchdowns (five runs, four passes).
Expand the criteria to 30 yards or more, and Ohio State has relinquished 26 such plays.
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“We just can’t give up those darn big plays,” coach Urban Meyer has said on a repeated basis this season.
Yet they keep coming.
Speaking of which, here comes Nebraska.
With an open offense led by quarterback Adrian Martinez, the Huskers are 18th nationally in plays of 20 yards or longer — they’ve done it 10 percent of the time. But they’ve done it increasingly in recent games while rebounding from a 0-6 start to a current two-game winning streak.
The Huskers have three runners who have produced at least one carry of 45 yards or longer, and three receivers who have at least one catch of 37 yards or longer, topped by a 75-yarder by J.D. Spielman.
In other words, they harbor athletes capable of striking if the Buckeyes’ lightning-detection system fails again Saturday. Meyer said the emphasis has been on tightening the run defense, including tackle drills and perhaps tweaks to the Buckeyes’ setup.
But it mostly comes down to an individual either making or missing a tackle, making or missing a pass coverage/breakup, or getting washed out of a play altogether. That’s why the emphasis has been on taking care of one’s own job, safety Jordan Fuller said.
“Just doing your job and finishing plays, that’s all I can really say,” Fuller said. And though the breakdowns have come because of “a combination of stuff, I think that’s a big part of it.”
Nebraska can be expected to go big-play hunting. The Huskers have the ammunition, just like many offenses the Buckeyes have faced this season.
“I feel like every college football offense gives you similar problems,” Fuller said. “They try to spread you out and make you make one-on-one plays. We’ve got to be ready for that.”
Yet Meyer’s lament about giving up “those darn big plays” has gone on for weeks. He knows any talk about having possibly fixed it is just lip service until kickoff.
“It’s an evaluation-friendly business, I’ve been saying that for a long time,” Meyer said. “I see (the emphasis) in practice — I see us working, I see us identifying those issues, position coaches and players working their tails off. How do you justify if it’s worked? Find out Saturday at noon.”