The buildup to No. 6 Ohio State and No. 10 Nebraska has been growing for weeks. After the Buckeyes dropped a game to Penn State midway through the year, all eyes were on Saturday’s primetime showdown with the Cornhuskers.
But the potentially résumé building game against Nebraska spells trouble for OSU. After failing to contain a mobile quarterback in Penn State redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley, who scrambled in for a key touchdown late, the Scarlet and Gray will be faced with an even more difficult challenge in senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.
Armstrong has been scoring touchdowns through the air and on the ground for the entire season, much like he has done throughout his career in Nebraska. After running back Ameer Abdullah left, Armstrong has been the go-to guy for the Cornhusker offense, and he has not disappointed.
With 1,764 yards passing and 419 yards rushing, Armstrong is well on his way to challenging for 3,000 yards this season. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs knows his unit will be pushed and will face adversity against him.
“He’s a very dynamic football player,” Coombs said. “He can run, he can throw, he scrambles. He does everything well. He probably has the strongest arm of any of the quarterbacks we’ve seen this year. We know we’ve got to do everything we can to contain him in the pocket, try to make sure we have on-body coverage, but then we also have to stop him when he runs the ball.”
OSU has struggled at times against dynamic signal callers this year. On top of McSorley, the Buckeyes faced redshirt junior Baker Mayfield, the lead man for Oklahoma. While the Sooners failed to top the Buckeyes, Mayfield had a decent day passing the ball. His legs were not a factor, as he could only find five yards on eight carries.
However, last week against Northwestern, OSU struggled to stop Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, who scampered for a 35-yard run. So how will the Buckeyes stop Armstrong? It’s simple, really.
Crash the pocket
Mobile quarterbacks have a tendency to have “happy feet” in the pocket. Plays occasionally take a long time to develop, and a signal caller who struggles to keep his legs under him in the pocket can have a secondary licking its chops. If OSU wants to have opportunities to be ballhawks, they have to put pressure on Armstrong.
Bringing edge pressure will force Armstrong to backpedal away from the pocket. If he rolls to his left, then half the field will be removed from the play. The same can be said for his right. When a quarterback removes himself from the pocket, it’s up to receivers to run rover and find a way to get open.
With two stud cornerbacks in redshirt junior Gareon Conley and redshirt sophomore Marshon Lattimore, a trigger-happy Armstrong without his feet under him could make those two corners very happy by the end of the night.
Defend the deep ball
Armstrong is a cannon-armed quarterback who loves to chuck the ball deep. That much is known, but just how well can the Buckeyes keep the ball from receivers further than 20 yards down the field?
OSU has been guilty of giving up chunk plays down the field, including some key ones against Penn State. That could spell trouble for OSU early. The Buckeyes have not seemed like a team that can handle an early deficit well, and expect Nebraska to chuck it downfield early.
Sure, Conley and Lattimore are looking good at this point of the year, but the secondary has been guilty of the occasional misread on passes over the top, like this instance against Wisconsin.
If the Buckeyes want to find a way to win, they have to keep Armstrong from pitching it deep.
Get out in front early
Although Nebraska does not have the most potent offense, any form of lead can be enough for a team that puts up 32 points a game and only lost one game this season.
OSU has struggled mightily in the first half this year, and needs to find a way to get points on the board early to keep the dynamic ability of Armstrong from hurting them.
If he is playing with the lead, OSU’s defense might tense up and be in for a long night in Ohio Stadium. As aggressive as they are, the Silver Bullets could run themselves right out of the game if overly aggressive.
Putting points up early would force Armstrong to push in order to catch back up, and the Buckeyes defense is best with the lead.