World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon breaks down the key matchups in Saturday's Nebraska-Ohio State game.
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KEY MATCHUP: BRAXTON MILLER VS. NU'S FRONT SEVEN
Tackling Ohio State QB Braxton Miller in the open field is a bit like wrapping your arms around flowing water. That's why NU's front seven will do all it can to stay disciplined in its pass rush and consistent in its defense of OSU's zone read. Miller will make his plays. But twice or thrice a game, he'll make a mistake. NU's defense has to turn that error into a takeaway or a sack.
NU RUSH OFFENSE VS. OSU RUSH DEFENSE
In last year's 34-27 comeback win in Lincoln, NU's no-huddle attack had success once it spread out the Buckeyes' front seven and started attacking outside the tackles. OSU's interior line, anchored by nose tackle Johnathan Hankins (28 tackles), gums up the trenches. Nebraska can break some big plays — the Ohio State linebacking corps isn't great yet — but it'll need to be patient to do it. Edge: Even
NU PASS OFFENSE VS. OSU PASS DEFENSE
OSU's defensive backs are talented — senior corner Travis Howard might be the league's best right now — but they're still giving up 275 passing yards per game. That includes 12 pass plays of 30 yards or more. NU is tops in the Big Ten in pass efficiency and has the league's most balanced group of pass-catchers. Taylor Martinez is throwing the ball with more confidence and accuracy, too. Edge: Nebraska
OSU RUSH OFFENSE VS. NU RUSH DEFENSE
The Huskers' front seven took huge strides in a 30-27 win over Wisconsin, stuffing Badger running back Montee Ball. But if UW's running game is a one-note power play, Ohio State's is anything but that. Miller is a dangerous weapon on the zone read, and OSU coach Urban Meyer uses a variety of formations and motion combinations to create mismatches. Until Miller got hurt in last year's game, NU had no real answer for the Buckeyes. Edge: Ohio State
OSU PASS OFFENSE VS. NU PASS DEFENSE
Miller is a boom-or-bust passer — he can throw wildly off target or hit a receiver in stride — but NU's secondary has been boom-or-bust itself, giving up long completions and pass interference penalties. If coach Bo Pelini insists on aggressive press coverage, it'll force Miller to be more accurate than he's often asked to be. But if Miller breaks contain and throws a rocket downfield, look out. Edge: Even
Nebraska's Brett Maher is tied for third nationally in touchbacks with 26. OSU's Drew Basil has only nine, although the Buckeyes' kickoff coverage unit holds returners to around 20 yards per return. NU kick returners Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner have to like their chances. Still, the Buckeyes have capable coverage and return units. Edge: Even
A lot can fit into this category, and much of it seems to favor the Buckeyes. They'll have the home crowd. The cold, rainy weather probably suits their game a bit more. And Ohio State has a head coach in Urban Meyer who's won a lot of big, tight games. Nebraska claims to play better on the road, but slow starts at home don't necessarily mean that NU plays well on the road. The Huskers didn't really last year. And the 36-30 loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl doesn't encourage NU fans. Edge: Ohio State
NU WILL WIN IF...
The Huskers make Miller pay for the few mistakes he makes, and the running game pops open some big plays.
OSU WILL WIN IF...
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It grabs an early lead and rides a big Horseshoe crowd all night. Or if Miller goes off on Nebraska, which is entirely possible.
Nebraska can steal this one. Ohio State relies heavily on its quarterback to get yards and make points, while the Buckeyes' defense isn't much more than average. NU has the best offense OSU has faced to date. Bo Pelini has a strong history of slowing Urban Meyer offenses, and he comes up with a plan to deliver NU a mild upset in Columbus. If the Huskers pull it off, it's arguably the best win of Pelini's five-year career.
Nebraska 24, Ohio State 20