Your mind drifts to strange places during the second half of a game like Saturday’s.
As Nebraska was breezing past Bethune-Cookman, I kept thinking about Ohio State. That’s kind of a strange place at the moment, right?
The Buckeyes are coming off a 19-point loss last week at Purdue. They had Saturday off as their upcoming opponent, the Huskers, prevailed 45-9 before an announced crowd of 88,735 at Memorial Stadium.
The student section had plenty of open seats as a lot of those folks took the day off from watching football live. Scott Frost’s team did not take the day off. It was alert from the get-go, roaring to leads of 28-3 after the first quarter and 38-3 at halftime. Game over. Bring on Ohio State.
OK, nobody that I heard in Nebraska’s camp was talking in those terms after the Huskers improved to 2-6 with their second straight triumph. However, I will be interested in the conversation in our neck of the woods in the coming week. Are Big Red fans bracing for another Buckeye blitzkrieg? Or do they expect the Huskers to be competitive this time around? Or, do they think (gulp) Frost’s crew can, you know, stun the world?
I told you strange things come to mind on days like this, when Nebraska led big in the second half and sent into the game third- and fourth-unit players as if it were the 1980s and 1990s again.
Speaking of oddities, Ohio State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) ranks 69th nationally in total defense and 90th in pass defense. Nobody that I know of is saying Nebraska is primed for an upset, but let me say this: The Husker offense has been picking up steam in recent weeks. Unflappable rookie quarterback Adrian Martinez was spectacular against Minnesota and came back with a strong performance against Bethune-Cookman, save for one awful throw over the middle that was intercepted.
Throughout most of the first half, Martinez played a high-quality game of pitch-and-catch with standout receivers Stanley Morgan (seven catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns in the first 30 minutes) and JD Spielman (5 catches for 72 yards). The duo’s capable of causing problems for almost any secondary. I’m not saying Ohio State’s secondary is in the tank, but the Buckeyes have been slowly backing away from the press-coverage scheme that helped them win all the marbles in 2014.
After Saturday’s easy-breezy stroll, Morgan and Spielman and the rest of the first-unit offense will be well-rested heading to the Horseshoe against a struggling defensive backfield. Just sayin’. Let’s leave it at that, OK, except to say Ohio State’s rushing game has been anemic enough — a 3.1 yards-per-carry average in the last three games — that cleveland.com writer Doug Lesmerises suggested last week that Urban Meyer should make changes at all three interior line positions.
With the run game sputtering, Meyer has reverted to basketball on grass. He used to threaten to fire assistants who mentioned the style. But now, yeah, it’s a little weird in Columbus.
Meanwhile, Nebraska seems much more prepared to play a highly ranked team — Ohio State is No. 11 in The Associated Press poll — than it was Sept. 22, when it was waylaid 56-10 by a Michigan crew that was ranked 19th at the time but since has risen to No. 5.
That Michigan defense is a toothy bear. Ohio State doesn’t have a unit with that much bite.
“We’ll find out (if we’re more prepared for a ranked foe),” Frost said. “I hope quite a bit more. I think we’re a more disciplined team. I think we’re a more efficient team right now. Hopefully that means we’re going to be a more confident team. We’ve got to go on the road to a tough place to play a very good team that’s going to be ticked off and had two weeks since their last game that didn’t go well for them.
“We know what we’re in for. We’re going to get their best shot.”
I really wonder if that’ll be the case. I wonder if the Zach Smith domestic abuse scandal — which ultimately resulted in Meyer being suspended for the first three games — took some serious steam out of the program.
I think it’s OK to believe wholeheartedly that this year’s Nebraska-Ohio State game will look strikingly different than the last two, in which the Buckeyes outscored the Huskers by a combined 118-17. The Huskers essentially failed to show up last year in Lincoln. I know that won’t happen again. The vibe in Frost’s program is good and getting better with seemingly every passing day.
“I think everybody can see what we’re building,” said Husker junior walk-on Wyatt Mazour, who rushed five times for 55 yards in the second half against Bethune-Cookman as my mind drifted toward a coming week that will hold our interest much more than the just completed one.
Granted, many Nebraska fans still will brace for a blowout at the Horseshoe, but I don’t buy that line of thinking. I anticipate an interesting Saturday afternoon with a large pile of points. Let’s just leave it at that, for now.