Buckeyes finally might get a real test

Bill Rabinowitz
Nebraska running back Maurice Washington suffered a leg injury against Illinois on Saturday and did not play in the second half. He is averaging 7.7 yards a carry this season. [Holly Hart/The Associated Press]

Unlike the NFL, college football doesn’t have a preseason.

Ohio State wouldn’t dare acknowledge that its first four games were the equivalent of exhibition games. That would be disrespectful to its opponents and contrary to its philosophy that each game is an important one-week season.

On the other hand, when you outscore opponents 214-36, it’s natural to crave some legitimate competition. It could happen Saturday at Nebraska, even with the fifth-ranked Buckeyes a 17½-point favorite.

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The Cornhuskers haven’t reclaimed their status as one of college football’s behemoths. Coach Scott Frost’s second year at his alma mater has not been as smooth as many expected for a team projected to be a favorite in the Big Ten West.

Nebraska is 3-1, with the loss coming at Colorado after the Huskers collapsed in the fourth quarter. They also needed to rally to beat Illinois in their Big Ten opener last week.

Still, the Huskers do have talent, starting with quarterback Adrian Martinez, and their defense is improved. This will also be the Buckeyes’ first night game, with ESPN's "GameDay" adding to the hoopla.

“We’ve got a real big challenge ahead of us this week,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. Nebraska is "by far the best team that we've played."

“It's going to be an electric environment with 'GameDay' there, and so we have to handle that. That's our first real challenge as a team.”

Ohio State struggled with Nebraska in Columbus last year, winning 36-31 in a game that was expected to be a rout. That was one of the first games in which the Huskers gave a glimpse of what their fans expected to see under Frost. Now the Buckeyes will play in front of a crowd eager to see its team take the next step.

“It’s an intimidating atmosphere,” Ohio State senior wide receiver Austin Mack said. “They’re a good team. We had troubles with them last year. We’re taking this game very seriously.”

The Buckeyes have blown out every opponent so thoroughly that starters have spent the fourth quarter on the sideline. They expect this to be a 60-minute game, which could be an issue.

“It's something that we're going to talk to the guys about,” Day said. “We have to be able to play 60 minutes and prove that we can play 60 minutes.

“The good news is we've been building depth in these four games, and guys have played, so that we feel a little better about putting guys in the game when we need to, and we can roll guys" in and out.

Nebraska has the talent to be the first team to challenge the Buckeyes defense. Martinez is a threat with both his arm and legs. J.D. Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson, whom Day compared to Purdue’s Rondale Moore, are among the most dynamic playmakers in the Big Ten.

The Huskers have forced 10 turnovers and given up only 3.1 yards per rush.

Frost "has done a great job here of building this team up,” Day said. “He's increased the talent, picked up some really good players on both sides of the ball. They do a really good job of stretching you horizontally and get you with tempo on offense, and then on defense, a lot of different looks and very well-coached.”

Ohio State has displayed few weaknesses, but Day is reserving judgment about just how good his team is.

“I think we've shown some flashes and have played hard and played tough,” he said. “Until you really get going with some of these conference games, you don't really know where you are.

"I think it's a solid start, but it's just a start.”


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