Nebraska almost managed to extend its 2016 winning streak to eight games, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. They have no time to hang their heads considering they travel to face an Ohio State team that hasn’t been firing on all cylinders but still has the talent to hold off pesky opponents.
It might come as a surprise that both teams are 10-2 over their past 12 games. The Blackshirts will take care of themselves. How can Husker offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf help the Big Red beat Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell’s defense?
Langsdorf started his Wednesday post-practice press conference by talking about whether Nebraska will be looking to get an aerial assault going against the Buckeyes or if he’d prefer a ground attack. He likes the idea of the latter setting up the former.
“I think that’s a good thing, if we can have some success running the ball, it always helps us. So establishing that early and getting positive gains would be big. Just to not have to rely, get into second-and-long, and have to rely on making those completions. I think we still need them, we still need them on first and second down, but I think that’s taking a little bit of pressure off the passing game if you can have some success early running.”
As I mentioned, the past few games have appeared frustrating for Ohio State. I watched their contests versus Wisconsin, Penn State and Northwestern to get an idea of how Nebraska can attack this defense effectively with the tools at the Huskers’ disposal.
- Assuming the pocket can hold, there’s plenty of room for Tommy Armstrong, Jr. to do major damage with his legs. Northwestern quarterback Clatyon Thorson did a great job taking advantage of this once his pocket opened up and his receivers took Ohio State’s defensive backs downfield. I see Armstrong gashing the Buckeyes for 10 to 15-plus yards simply tucking and going, let alone with designed draws.
I can see option handoffs to the running backs being used, but not frequently. Langsdorf pointed out how the Buckeyes rotate eight players up front, so I’m thinking direct or delayed handoffs may be the way to go here. As Langsdorf said, the key is to find out how to prevent second and long, so expect the initial drives to probe for which running lanes inside the tackles are available.
The only opportunity I see for runs outside the tackles would be to the left side off Nick Gates’ hip and with how limited his movement is, I’m not sure we see much of that. The right seems like a waste of time to test regardless of if David Knevel or Cole Conrad plays there. The Buckeyes simply have too much speed and may end up dropping any back for a loss.
- It appears Nebraska might be able to get some use out of passing to the running backs in this game. Terrell Newby, Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon all have the opportunity to gain 5-7 yards per catch if Langsdorf can keep this defense spread out and their offensive line gives Armstrong the time to use even semi-proper footwork. If some short passes can be made to take pressure off of him early, this opens the door for some run-pass option later on.
- It appears that the area underneath Ohio State’s back seven is ripe for picking up passing yardage, especially when using crossing routes. Bringing players like Jordan Westerkamp, Stanley Morgan and tight end Cethan Carter (if he returns) could result in either picking up big chunks of yardage or extended big plays.
- We should touch on Carter as earlier this week, head coach Mike Riley sounded like his return was possible, but unlikely. Now, it seems like he could very well see time against Urban Meyer’s crew. That may come down to a game-time decision, but how he’s responding on Thursday and Friday will likely tell the coaches all they need to know.
If he’s in the game, not only does Nebraska have one of its best athletes back, but one of its best pass catchers and run blockers. He may open the lanes that Husker running backs have been lacking as of late.
- I feel the Nebraska wide receivers have the advantage over the Ohio State defensive backs. As a result of the Buckeyes playing primarily man-to-man coverage, I’d look for Langsdorf to throw deep a time or two, but Nebraska has to be careful. Armstrong must set his feet and trust that his line will give him time for a proper throw or he’s just chucking up an interception.
- Something else to keep in mind is that Wisconsin showed how to bat Armstrong’s passes down at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State has shown the capability of doing the exact same thing.
If the Buckeyes choose to drop back and attempt to bat balls, taking advantage of Fickell not bringing pressure by throwing screens to both running backs and wide receivers could help force Scarlet and Gray hands to eventually stay closer to the torso. This allows Armstrong the opportunity to get his darts across the middle and prevent long conversion situations.
This has been fun, but if you don’t mind, I’m going to let the guy who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars figure out how to best the Buckeye defensive eleven.