Cody Cousino / Photo editor
After losing to Michigan State last weekend, Ohio State will likely have to win each of their remaining Big Ten games to have a shot at their sixth conference title in seven years. Winning out is a tall order for the Buckeyes, given their matchup with No.14 Cornhuskers in Nebraska on Saturday. The team certainly can’t accomplish that playing as they did in their abysmal showing against the Spartans. To win, OSU must improve every facet of their game.
The offense was, well, offensive against the Spartans. They didn’t reach 100 total yards until there was less than five minutes remaining in the game, and had fewer offensive yards than penalty yards through most of the fourth quarter.
The team finished with 178 yards, but 62 of them came on its final drive of the game and only 35 yards came on the ground on 39 rushing attempts.
Turning those numbers around starts with the offensive line. Three of the five starters on the line had false start penalties, and that was in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium. That doesn’t include the holding and illegal block penalties.
Penalties wreck drives by killing momentum and setting the team up for long second- and third-down conversions. OSU converted only 4-of-16 third-down attempts.
For better or for worse, the offensive line has been shuffled this week to accommodate senior Mike Adams coming back from suspension to play left tackle. The line has to protect freshman quarterback Braxton Miller and give him time to see the field before sending him scrambling for his life.
The wide receivers have to step up and become better targets for Miller as well. One of Miller’s few good throws, a deep pass to fellow freshman Devin Smith, was stripped for an interception. The receivers, without DeVier Posey again this week, have to make those big plays to give the Buckeyes a chance.
The defense needs to build off of its impressive performance against MSU in which it forced two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
Sophomore defensive back Christian Bryant broke on a ball late in the second quarter that should have been an easy interception. Bryant could’ve walked into the end zone if he had picked off the pass, but instead the ball fell harmlessly to the turf. A winning defense will pick up the slack during a poor offensive showing by making those plays.
The pass rush was largely nonexistent as well, as the team registered zero quarterback sacks. Senior defensive end Nathan Williams is out again this week, so the team has to find another impact rusher to pressure Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. Without pressure, Martinez will tear the Buckeyes apart on the back end.
Besides putting pressure on Martinez, the defense also faces the task of containing the dual-threat sophomore. And if that’s not hard enough, they will have to stop a rushing attack behind an offensive line that averages 303-pounds apiece.
When a team struggles with scoring, the special teams become increasingly important.
Redshirt junior punter Ben Buchanan has been an asset for the Buckeyes in the field position battle this season, downing 13-of-29 punts inside the 20-yard line. Field position will be important again Saturday if the offense is slow out of the gates.
Junior running back Jordan Hall needs to return to form in the return game to set the offense up with solid field position.
The coaches, namely first-year head coach Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, need to mix up the play calls Saturday. If they become predictable and allow Nebraska’s defense to pin their ears back and rush Miller, they may see another nine-sack performance.
Miller is extremely raw as a college quarterback, but there is nothing to be gained by closing the playbook to him. Give Miller a little trust and see how he responds.
And please, stick with one quarterback. The team is better off in the hands of its future quarterback sooner rather than later. The two-quarterback system has its history of failures. A quarterback needs to know their coach trusts them; just ask Todd Boeckman and Justin Zwick.