Making hay against Cornhuskers
LINCOLN, Neb. — One of these weeks, Ohio State will really be tested.
At some point, a team will have an answer for the Buckeyes’ multipronged offense. Some Saturday, an opponent will find a way to pierce Ohio State’s swarming, disciplined defense consistently.
On Saturday, Nebraska was supposed to pose the stiffest challenge of the season for the Buckeyes. Final score: Ohio State 48, Nebraska 7.
Granted, the Cornhuskers are not close to a finished product in coach Scott Frost’s second season as coach. But this was the Buckeyes’ first prime-time game of the year and first in front of a truly hostile road crowd, at least as hostile as the famously courteous Nebraska fans can be.
>>PHOTOS: Ohio State 48, Nebraska 7
The No. 5 — for now — Buckeyes never allowed the 89,759 at Memorial Stadium to ever think that an upset was possible. Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) steamrolled Nebraska (3-2, 1-1) in every way possible.
“We talked all week about what it was going to take to win this game on the road, and we kind of came in hitting on all cylinders,” coach Ryan Day said.
In taking a 48-0 lead late in the third quarter, the Buckeyes outgained the Cornhuskers 520-91. Ohio State scored on every drive until the fourth quarter except for a half-hearted one at the end of the second quarter.
“I think we're very confident right now,” quarterback Justin Fields said. “We came into Lincoln and they have amazing fans. They were loud, at the beginning at least, but I think we handled it well. And we just came out and jumped on them early and didn't let up.”
Fields looks increasingly like a seasoned veteran instead of a sophomore making his fifth career start. He completed 15 of 21 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 72 yards and a score. He still has not thrown an interception as a Buckeye.
J.K. Dobbins ran for 177 yards on 24 carries.
The offensive line continued to dominate, even with Joshua Alabi filling in for Branden Bowen at right tackle. It opened gaping holes in the run game and provided ample protection in the pocket for Fields.
The defense was again stifling. A year ago as a true freshman, Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez completed 22 of 33 passes for 266 yards without an interception in a surprisingly close 36-31 loss to the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium.
This is not the same defense. In the first half Saturday, the Buckeyes caught more of his passes than Cornhuskers. Martinez completed only 2 of 8 passes for 10 yards with three interceptions in the first two quarters.
“We had to come to this game and play really well fundamentally and schematically,” defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley said. “I think they have a really good offense. I think Scott Frost does a really good job, and I was worried about this.
“With their quarterback run game and the different things that they showed on offense, I didn't sleep very much this week. And I'm just really proud of these guys.”
Junior cornerback Jeff Okudah, who got his first career interception last week against Miami University, had two of them, and both were of highlight-reel quality. Nebraska had gained a total of 80 yards on drives preceding Okudah’s interceptions.
In the Huskers’ other five possessions, the Buckeyes yielded a total of only 6 yards. Safety Jordan Fuller had the third interception.
The Buckeyes wasted no time taking control. Nebraska moved to its 40 on the game’s opening possession. On third-and-7, defensive end Chase Young, as is his wont, chased Martinez out of the pocket. Okudah read the play perfectly and broke on the ball intended for Wan’Dale Robinson for the interception at midfield.
The Buckeyes benefited from a pass-interference call in the end zone against Nebraska. On the next play, Fields ran 15 yards for a touchdown.
After a Nebraska three-and-out, Ohio State drove 60 yards, with K.J. Hill scoring on a 2-yard reception.
The Huskers then had their best drive, confusing Ohio State as they drove to the Buckeyes’ 26. But Martinez then overthrew a soft pass to Robinson, who tipped it to Okudah, who caught it while on his back.
The Buckeyes settled for a field goal on their ensuing drive but scored on a Master Teague III 8-yard run following Fuller’s interception. The next touchdown was also a Teague special — 28-yard catch, 26-yard run, 1-yard score that made it 31-0.
Austin Mack had the final score of the first half with an 18-yard catch in tight coverage.
The Buckeyes padded their lead to 48-0 on a difficult catch in the corner of the end zone by freshman Garrett Wilson.
Nebraska finally scored when Martinez broke a 56-yard run against a mixture of Ohio State starters and backups to set up a 9-yard touchdown run by Dedrick Mills. But that was all the Huskers could manage against a defense that has little resemblance to last season’s.
“Forget last year,” Hafley said. “And that's my message today too, because a lot of people are bringing that up, even in games like this. This is a new team. It's a new attitude. Not knocking last year, but that talk's over.”
The big question now is how high the Buckeyes might climb in the national polls. Top-ranked Clemson barely escaped North Carolina. The growing consensus is that the Buckeyes, who have outscored opponents 262-43, are playing as well as anyone.
Before the season, many speculated that Nebraska might do what Iowa and Purdue did to the Buckeyes when they came to town. This team seems on guard for that kind of letdown.
“We try to keep it week to week because in recent years, as we all know, we've definitely slipped up in the past,” Fields said. “We're definitely not doing that again this year.”
Nebraska would probably vouch for that.
“I thought we had a puncher’s chance if we came out and played a really good game, and we didn’t, so that’s the result,” Frost said.
“I give a ton of credit to them and their coaching staff because they’re a lot better football team than they were a year ago.”