One can imagine the unpleasant nature of Nebraska defenders’ film review of last week’s Wisconsin game.
After all, the Badgers steamrolled their way to 353 rushing yards, averaging 7.2 per carry.
When the review was complete, a rather stark message became a theme of sorts for Nebraska during this week’s preparation for ninth-ranked Ohio State.
“The message was: We don’t have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves,” said Husker junior linebacker Luke Gifford. “If you sit around and feel sorry for yourself, they’ll hang 60 on you.”
That’s a cold reality as the Huskers (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten) attempt to rebound from a 38-17 home loss Saturday to the Badgers, who this week moved up two spots to No. 7 in the Associated Press poll.
Wisconsin’s battering-ram run game, led by true freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, was the impetus to 21 straight points to close the deal.
As if discussing that loss weren’t difficult enough, Nebraska defenders this week faced questions about last season’s 62-3 throttling by Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. The rematch is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“We’re trying to focus on this year — and just that,” said Gifford, a Lincoln Southeast graduate, whose 36 tackles rank fourth on the team. “You can’t go back and fix anything from last year. It is what it is. It sucks that it happened that way, but we have to focus on this week.”
Ohio State’s uptempo spread offense — the Buckeyes crank out a play every 11 seconds when in high rear — will look much different from Wisconsin’s power run-oriented, play-action system.
“They’re a lot different,” Gifford said. “Ohio State likes to use the whole field, spread you out and create space. They have the playmakers to do a lot with that.”
Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett — an extension of the Ohio State coaching staff, according to Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco — leads a balanced attack that ranks fourth nationally in both total offense (568.0 yards per game) and scoring (45.8).
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Barrett isn’t all that fast but is proficient running the read option, a look that Wisconsin eschews completely. And, yes, the Buckeyes (5-1, 3-0) have plenty of playmakers besides Barrett. In the past four games alone — ever since a 31-16 home loss to Oklahoma — 15 different receivers have caught passes, and 10 have made touchdown catches. Junior Johnnie Dixon (5-11, 185) has averaged 31.0 yards per catch during the stretch, with three touchdowns.
During the same span, Barrett has completed 72 of 104 passes (69.2 percent) for 1,026 yards and 13 touchdowns with no interceptions. Granted, the competition has been suspect (Army, UNLV, Rutgers and Maryland), but the numbers still impress.
Said Gifford: “What we have to do is be fundamentally sound and be smart with our alignments.”
Gifford said Oregon’s uptempo spread offense is somewhat comparable to Ohio State’s. If you’re a Nebraska fan, that may not inspire much confidence considering the Ducks on Sept. 9 hung 42 points and 409 yards of total offense on the Huskers — before halftime.
On the other hand, Nebraska shut out Oregon in the second half, in part because the Ducks let off the gas in tempo but also because the Huskers did admirable work in slowing All-Pac-12 running back Royce Freeman. He carried 18 times for 92 yards (5.1) in the final 30 minutes, but when you exclude his last two runs in the game's final moments, when the outcome was settled, his totals drop to 16 carries for 73 yards (4.6).
“We know we can stop good backs,” Gifford said. “I think that game does give us some confidence.”
Nebraska’s challenge stopping the run this week is formidable — perhaps as difficult as last week’s task. Ohio State’s top two running backs — true freshman J.K. Dobbins and sophomore Mike Weber — possess the sort of talent that would get any defensive coordinator’s rapt attention.
The 5-10, 208-pound Dobbins, of LaGrange, Texas, has rushed 88 times for 669 yards (7.6) and four touchdowns.
His “start-stop” speed is unique, Diaco said.
“He’s kind of a jump-cut runner, and he can accelerate and get to full speed very, very quickly,” the coach said.
Dobbins obviously wasn’t part of last year’s game against Nebraska. Nor was Diaco. But the Huskers’ first-year assistant said he’ll watch tape of that contest if only to pick up Buckeye tendencies and traits.
“You might see something you maybe didn’t (initially) see — a play, a formation, a shift, a hand signal, a different tempo,” he said. “I don’t think burying your head in the sand is a positive. Now, as it relates to what the players consume, we have to have an art form there and be very crafty.”
Bottom line, Husker players can’t afford to dwell on the past, lest they get 60 points hung on them again.