The Cornhuskers got off to a hot start with their fancy new (at times old school) offense, but overall they lost momentum quickly. I give them high marks for getting creative in crafting an interesting new offense for super speedster Taylor Martinez, but it’s evident they are still breaking in some new pieces and getting used to the scheme.
Martinez is dynamite as a runner. He is both quick and fast, and he runs runs hard when the situation calls for it. Like Denard Robinson, he is able to exploit a crease and be gone 60 yards in the blink of an eye, but he’s a bit loose with the ball.
They complement him with a lot of good talent at I-back. Leading off is junior Rex Burkhead, who runs sort of like a cross between Boom Herron (for how hard he runs) and Mark Ingram (for the way he cuts). Burkhead is also between those guys in size (5-11, 210). He’s not a burner, but he’s fast enough and he sets up blocks well. He can be dangerous both up the middle and on the edge when they run a power toss. Behind him freshmen Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard are scat backs who can make big plays.
Most of the wide receivers are young and talented but unpolished, aside from senior Brandon Kinnie, who is a big target (6-3, 225) and a possession receiver. The big name is Jamal Turner, who leads them so far this season statistically and is a big-play threat.
I like both tight ends. Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed. Both are good blockers and will provide outlets for Martinez when he drops back.
Tyler Legate is a good all-around fullback who can help in the passing game, too, but their offensive line seems average at best. They are athletic and do a lot of pulling and cutting, but they don’t seem to have a bunch of mashers. As much as they move, they will be a different look for the Buckeyes. Nobody really stands out on the line, but center Mike Caputo and right guard Spencer Long seem like the two best players.
The Nebraska defensive front also brings a unique challenge to Ohio State in that it plays a lot of two-gap technique up front. It’s a difficult but can really pay off if done right, and Nebraska does it pretty well. Tackle Jared Crick and end Cameron Meredith are both good at shedding blocks and making tackles in front of them, but the main thing is really to make room for the linebackers to operate. Of their starters, only Lavonte David is all that impressive. Will Compton and Sean Fisher both had a hard time getting through traffic and making stops against Wisconsin. Neither was all that impressive in other games I’ve watched, either.
But the real problem seems to be in the secondary. They were really susceptible to play action against the Badgers (which is probably not surprising) and Washington, too. They also had a couple of times they had people in position who couldn’t make the play.
They will bring man blitzes, but I think they prefer to be sound up front on early downs and stop the run with their front seven then drop back into cover 2 later. They’re normally a straight 4-3, but they have a 30 front they’ll bring some varied blitzes out of.
Ohio State must stop the option from producing big plays and must not fall behind because I think Nebraska is content to play deep coverage and beat you up with its front as long as it can.
Martinez will hit the occasional deep ball and can get into a rhythm on intermediate stuff, but he is not consistent at all in his mechanics or making reads. He is pretty good at turning the ball over, so this would be a good week for Ohio State to start catching some of those interceptions they’ve been presented with.
They can grind on you with Burkhead and then pop something with Martinez. They’ve also got the old belly play to the fullback when you fall asleep on him.
You’ll see a fair amount of I formation from which they’ll do traditional veer and play action and tosses and power plays, but they also spend a lot of time in the pistol with three or four receivers. They run zone read out of that and move the tight ends as H-backs who can help in a variety of ways, including as crack back blockers. They give defenders a lot to look at in the backfield like an old veer or wing-T team, so it will be interesting to see how Ohio State’s linebackers respond.
I think the OSU defensive line can win and get some penetration, but those inside linebackers scrape to the ball. I think they’ll option the outside linebacker and make the corners and safeties come up and make hits. Perhaps that’s a good thing for Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett. This could be a week for Tyler Moeller to produce some big plays if they choose to attack him.
Offensively, Ohio State just needs to man up on the line. They have to win battles up there or this team can’t beat any decent teams. I think they’ll be able to protect the quarterback, but easy reads might not be very plentiful, so it will be interesting to see how he responds and if he gets any help from the wide receivers.