Once upon a time, a trip to Nebraska was among the most intimidating, difficult ventures in all of college football.
Once upon a time. Not now.
It’s not a layup by any means. But when the Ohio State Buckeyes (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten Conference) travel to face the Cornhuskers (3-3, 2-1) on Saturday night, they will head to Lincoln as three-touchdown favorites.
Nebraska coach Mike Riley is on the hot seat and the man who hired him, athletic director Shawn Eichorst, already has been dismissed.
Last season in Columbus?
Ohio State 62, Nebraska 3. Yowza!
Here are five storylines to watch for Ohio State-Nebraska.
1. Road Warriors: In what has become an eye-popping statistic, Ohio State is 24-1 in road games under coach Urban Meyer. The only defeat came last season at Penn State.
Saturday night won’t be so much about Nebraska’s diminished home-field advantage (Northern Illinois won at Nebraska earlier this season), but Ohio State’s continuing ability to win — and win big — away from Columbus is a compelling factor.
2. Buckeye Strong: If Ohio State prevails at Nebraska — and the oddsmakers are ultra-confident that will happen — the Buckeyes will enter a bye week before facing the Oct. 28 game (Penn State at Ohio State) that could define the Buckeyes’ season.
Then — and now — one question will surround the Buckeyes.
How good are they?
After the Sept. 9 home loss against the Oklahoma Sooners, a dismal 31-16 affair, the Buckeyes have won four straight games, outscoring their opponents 210-42.
The opponents were Army, UNLV, Rutgers and Maryland.
How good are the Buckeyes?
We’ll have a better idea on Saturday night.
3. The Passing Game: Meyer talked all offseason about the importance of Ohio State generating a more productive passing game, particularly one that could go deep. Could the Buckeyes accomplish that with what appeared to be an inexperienced and unproven receiving corps?
In the past four games, Ohio State senior quarterback J.T. Barrett has completed 72 of 104 passes (69.2 percent) for 1,026 yards and 13 touchdowns with no interceptions.
Fifteen different receivers have caught passes during that stretch, and 10 of them scored touchdowns.
Junior wideout Johnnie Dixon, a non-factor through most of his career due to injuries, has averaged 31.0 yards per catch with thee touchdowns during the stretch.
Nebraska is fairly average against the pass — ranking 67th nationally — so it will be notable if Ohio State can continue its torrid passing pace.
4. Special Teams: Ohio State’s special teams were especially horrible against Maryland.
Buckeyes kicker Sean Nuernberger had a 47-yard field-goal attempt blocked. His holder, Due Chrisman, bobbled the snap on an extra-point attempt.
Neurnberger also flat out missed a 29-yard field-goal attempt and delivered a kickoff to the middle of the field — a cardinal sin in Meyer’s world — and Maryland’s Ty Johnson galloped 100 yards for a touchdown.
Meyer has promised adjustments, whether it’s personnel or strategy. Even in games where the outcomes were never in doubt, the special teams have driven Meyer to distraction.
5. Stopping The Pass: Ohio State’s defense must protect against Nebraska’s passing game. Cornhuskers quarterback Tanner Lee has 1,406 passing yards in six games, while wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. leads the Big Ten in receiving yards (510) on 30 catches.
Ohio State’s pass defense has improved to 17th nationally (170.2 yards allowed per game) after a difficult start to the season (allowing 806 passing yards against Indiana and Oklahoma). Non-passing team Army was included in the recent stretch of success, so Ohio State’s pass-defense performance against Nebraska will be more indicative of the unit’s improvement.