Location: Columbus, Ohio | Coach: Urban Meyer (170-30, 66-7 at Ohio State) | Record: 5-1 (3-0 Big Ten) | Ranking: No. 9 Associated Press, No. 8 Coaches
OFFENSIVE RATING: 9
Offensive averages/national rank
DEFENSIVE RATING: 8
Defensive averages/national rank
SPECIAL-TEAMS RATING: 8
Special-teams averages/national rank
WHY YOU MAY NEED ROLAIDS
1. That offense! Ohio State fans went from wanting starting quarterback J.T. Barrett sent to the bench to watching him lead an attack that has averaged 625 yards per game the past three weeks. While the competition has been poor, those results will play against anyone. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense while ranking fourth, 14th and fourth nationally in those three categories. Ohio State is also 18th in the country in rushing offense, averaging a tick over 245 yards per game. Newly hired offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson is one of the best offensive minds in college football, and the guy he's working for, Urban Meyer, isn't too shabby himself. With a bye week after Saturday's game, expect the Buckeyes to do anything possible for one more scorched-earth performance to keep them in the minds of poll voters while taking next week off.
2. That defense! The Buckeyes allowed Maryland to gain all of 66 yards last week. It was the lowest total yardage for an Ohio State opponent since 1960, when Indiana finished with minus 60 yards. Ohio State has held four straight opponents to less than 100 yards passing, with a secondary considered to be the "weakness" of that unit. The Buckeyes have given up a total of 35 points their last four games after allowing 52 in their first two. The defensive line is the best in the nation, with six players starting at least three games and 93 career starts among seven players. Tyquan Lewis was the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year last season, while Sam Hubbard was a first-team academic All-American and Nick Bosa and Dre'Mont Jones were freshman All-Americans. Oh, by the way, defensive tackle Michael Hill, a redshirt senior who started all 13 games for the Buckeyes last season, will play against Nebraska after being suspended for the season's first six games.
3. Those special teams! Parris Campbell is third in the nation with a 39.0-yard average on kickoff returns. Drue Chrisman averages 42.6 yards per punt, and incredibly, the Buckeyes have yet to allow a single punt return yard. Sean Nuernberger is 7-for-9 on field goals and has made a school-record 140 consecutive extra points. Nuernberger is two more made extra points away from holding the Big Ten record. In short, even when the Buckeyes fall short of the end zone, they still have the ability to affect the game.
WHY YOU MIGHT CHILL
1. Nebraska's offense showed a little something in the first half against Wisconsin, rolling up 313 yards against a defense that hadn't allowed more than 304 in a game before Saturday. It's going to take a mistake-free effort, and the Huskers have to score touchdowns and not stall out in the red zone, but if NU can do it against Wisconsin's defense, the Huskers will at least have a shot against Ohio State. While it's yet to be seen if he plays, Tre Bryant returning to practice Tuesday certainly doesn't hurt Nebraska's chances.
2. Tanner Lee seems to be finding his place. While he was just 16-of-32 against Wisconsin, Lee looked confident and closer to the quarterback many saw through spring ball and fall camp. Coming on the heels of a solid performance at Illinois, Lee built on things against the Badgers. Over the past two weeks, Lee has thrown for 508 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Lee's 234.3 yards per game is fourth in the Big Ten, and his 1,406 yards is third behind Penn State's Trace McSorley and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett.
3. The game isn't at Ohio Stadium. Nebraska's last two trips to Columbus, in 2012 and 2016, resulted in losses of 63-38 and last year's 62-3 debacle. In 2011, of course, the Huskers rallied from a 27-6 deficit for a 34-27 win in Memorial Stadium. Last year in Columbus, the Huskers looked beaten before the game started. In the comfort of their home stadium, Ohio State's players were loose and full of swagger. Then, on Nebraska's opening drive, Ohio State took an interception back for a TD. If Nebraska can do something similar early, maybe that fuels an upset.
By the numbers
The number of total wins, and Big Ten wins, Ohio State has in its 127-year history. A win Saturday would tie the Buckeyes with Nebraska for fourth on the all-time wins list while giving the program its 500th Big Ten victory.
The number of tackles for loss by Ohio State’s fearsome defensive line. Ohio State’s 57 total tackles for loss lead the nation, and sophomore defensive lineman Nick Bosa leads the Big Ten with 10 tackles for loss.
Ohio State leads the Big Ten and is 14th nationally in passing yards per game, but the Buckeyes’ ground attack is every bit as important. Ohio State running backs have combined to average a whopping 7.28 yards per carry, with freshman starter J.K. Dobbins averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for the Columbus Dispatch.
Obviously the competition has a something to do with it, but what else has been behind Ohio State’s resurgence on offense the last few weeks?
A number of factors have contributed. You're right, inferior competition has definitely helped, but there has clearly been improvement. The offensive line is playing better and the receivers have definitely settled into their roles. Binjimen Victor might have the most talent of any of them and Parris Campbell is ridiculously fast. Johnnie Dixon has overcome a history of knee injuries to became another big-play threat. Another factor is that new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson is growing familiar with what his players do well and calling plays accordingly.
Has J.K. Dobbins been even better than what everyone expected coming out of fall camp? Does Mike Weber start to get more carries now that he’s getting healthy, or has Dobbins secured the starting role?
Dobbins is the starter, but the Buckeyes are intent on making sure Weber gets his touches. Whoever has the hot hand will get the most carries. They're fairly similar as runners. Both prefer running between the tackles. Dobbins is faster and more elusive. Weber has a little more power.
Has it almost become overlooked how good J.T. Barrett is? For all the criticism he took early in the season, his numbers have been tremendous.
There's no denying the numbers or his record as a starting quarterback (31-5). When someone has been the quarterback for as long as Barrett has been at OSU, there's a certain amount of familiarity-breeds-contempt feeling among some fans. It's a distinct minority, but they're vocal. Barrett doesn't have the biggest arm and can be a tick slow in hitting receivers. But he commits few turnovers, runs effectively and is a tremendous leader highly respected by his teammates and coaches. There's a lot to be said for that.
No shock here, but Ohio State’s defensive line has wreaked havoc all season. Has anything you’ve seen from that group surprised you, or has it been business as usual?
It has been as good as I expected, and I expected a lot. If you took the so-called backups — Nick Bosa (who's probably as good as his brother at the same stage), Jalyn Holmes, Robert Landers and Jashon Cornell — you'd have a line that's probably the best (along with Michigan's) in the Big Ten. Then there are guys like freshman Chase Young who'll be stars as soon as they get enough playing time. DL coach Larry Johnson uses a deep rotation to keep guys fresh, and it has certainly paid off. Tanner Lee could be under siege.
Pretty incredible that Urban Meyer had never lost an offensive lineman to injury at Ohio State until Saturday. How is the depth there, and how has the team reacted to Branden Bowen’s injury?
I wrote this week that of all the crazy stats OSU has had under Meyer, the streak of durability among the offensive linemen might be the most amazing. Meyer said it's an open competition between Matt Burrell, Malcolm Pridgeon and Demetrius Knox. I suspect Burrell, who replaced Bowen at right guard last week, will get the nod. Anytime a line has change, the cohesion that's essential for a line is challenged. But having an All-American like Billy Price at center eases that concern. Still, the right side of the line is question mark. Right tackle Isaiah Prince has been better than he was last year, but he's still shaky at times. His missed block last week contributed to Bowen's injury.