The sixth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes square off in the biggest home game so far in 2016 against the No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers in primetime in Ohio Stadium on Saturday. The Scarlet and Gray are honoring the 1916 Big Ten championship team and Chic Harley, who served during World War I, with a special-edition, throwback uniform.
The jerseys will be a new look for OSU, but many rather witness a change in the style of play than what the Buckeye offense has displayed the past four weeks. Enhanced by excellence at times, and marred by stagnation on other occasions, the passing game for OSU has been riddled with inconsistency, which has kept fans on edge.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Meyer indicated that a breakout in the downfield passing game is coming from redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett.
“I’m ready if you are,” Meyer said.
In last week’s 24-20 victory over Northwestern, OSU attempted just a handful of passes downfield and only registered one completion over 20 yards, which set up the game-winning score. Barrett said that it’s difficult for the receivers to run past defenders when they’re playing 10 to 12 yards off the ball — a look that Northwestern often showed the Buckeyes.
One of OSU’s touchdown drives against Northwestern took just nine plays to go 94 yards in under three minutes. Two drives later, OSU milked the clock for more than eight minutes and scored after 15 plays. Meyer said whether it be up-tempo or wearing a defense down throughout a drive, he just cares about scoring.
“If we’re getting certain defenses that we don’t like (in up-tempo), then you get stuck in a bad play,” he said. “Throughout the course of the game we can go to tempo any time that we want.”
Barrett might face his toughest challenge of the year going against a Nebraska secondary that has ball-hawking tendencies. Nebraska leads the NCAA in interceptions with 15, including two returned for touchdowns. Safeties Nate Gerry and Kieron Williams lead the team and the Big Ten with four interceptions, making the Cornhuskers one of the most difficult teams to throw downfield against.
Nebraska allowed one pass for more than 20 yards in its loss to No. 8 Wisconsin the previous week. However, The Cornhuskers surrendered 5.9 yards per carry on the ground against the Badgers. Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber and junior H-back Curtis Samuel have been heavily involved in the passing game and have been given a combined 25 to 30 carries each game.
Establishing an effective running game with Weber and Samuel might force Gerry and Williams to play up, therefore opening up the second level for receivers like redshirt sophomore Noah Brown.
“We definitely work on the deep ball every week in practice. We try to put it in the game plan every week,” Brown said. “We’re very confident in the deep ball and we’ll get it done.”
Kickoff is at 8 p.m.