COLUMBUS, Ohio — In recent weeks, Ohio State has tried to work its offense around taking what opposing defenses have been giving instead of making sure certain players get a certain number of opportunities.
During a midweek press conference, coach Urban Meyer said there was one player to whom that didn’t philosophy didn’t apply.
Nebraska’s defense found out in a big way Saturday why Curtis Samuel was the exception to Meyer’s rule and can handle the responsibility of being a target on every play.
“We have one right now,” Meyer said. “Curtis is one guy I do try to get to as a playmaker.”
The Huskers’ inability to finish tackles, especially during the first half of their 62-3 thumping at the hands of the Buckeyes, was highlighted by the longest play of the game. Of course, Samuel was the target.
It was the opening play of the second half and OSU already owned a 31-3 lead. Quarterback J.T. Barrett found Samuel open about 30 yards downfield.
After Samuel made the catch, Nebraska safety Aaron Williams seemed to push Samuel forward instead of trying to wrap him up with a textbook tackle.
Instead of going down, Samuel was more like a pinball as he raced to the end zone for his second touchdown in 15 seconds of game time — a 75-yard highlight reel catch-and-run that put the Buckeyes up 38-3 just 12 seconds into the third quarter.
Subpar tackling was a problem that plagued the Huskers most of the night, but it was especially noticeable as the Buckeyes built their big early lead. NU defensive coordinator Mark Banker said he was as surprised as anyone that things didn’t go so well.
“From a vantage point on the sideline, I thought at times we were a little tentative,” Banker said. “Just not absolutely attacking things. If I had an explanation, maybe we could have either amputated somewhere along the way or at least stopped the bleeding.”
Samuel had scored on a 1-yard catch three seconds before halftime. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound junior finished with eight catches for 137 yards — 11 more than Nebraska had as a team — by himself.
So many of OSU’s big plays were aided by subpar tackling that permeated throughout the entire NU defense. That was something defensive end Ross Dzuris noticed almost from the start.
“Especially early on, we were missing a lot of tackles,” Dzuris said. “That’s something we need to keep working on. I don’t think this is indicative of our team at all. I think we’re going to get back to practice this week and fix a lot of things, and we’ll be a much better team next week.”
It’s not usually a good sign when the final stats sheet shows that a pair of defensive backs were a team’s leading tackler. That’s what happened to the Huskers as safety Nate Gerry and cornerback Joshua Kalu led NU — along with linebacker Josh Banderas — with nine total tackles.
All of Gerry’s stops were solo tackles; Kalu had seven unassisted tackles and two assists. Banderas had two solo stops and seven assists.
“We’ll look at the film, but there’s not going to be one spot where we can say, ‘This is it,’” Banderas said. “It was a collective thing, and we didn’t play our game tonight.”
While the Huskers forced Ohio State into its fair share of third downs, those were the situations where the Buckeyes’ offense seemed to shine brightest.
OSU converted 11 of its 15 third down situations, whether they were short-, medium- or long-range challenges.
“We didn’t make the plays on third down that we needed to,” Dzuris said. “We were getting them in third-and-long and they kept getting first downs. We just didn’t make the plays we needed to and they were. It just adds up really fast.”
Banker said that inability to get off the field quickly was a big problem that can’t continue into the final three games — the next two at home against Minnesota and Maryland and the regular season finale Nov. 26 at Iowa.
“Bottom line is it wasn’t a good enough game plan and we didn’t play well enough,” Banker said. “The biggest thing now is to put your focus on the opponent, put a game plan together and aggressively go after this thing.”
When asked if lessons learned from last season’s defeats through a 6-7 campaign need to be reviewed, Banker said the history lesson doesn’t need to go that far back.
“We’re going to use this damned game right here as a building block for this next game,” Banker said. “You don’t want to repeat this. Whatever it was that we didn’t do right, after we analyze this thing, we need to correct it and go forward.”