In some aspects, Ohio State week is almost like a do-over.
In the week leading up to Michigan, offensive coordinator Troy Walters told his receivers to expect as physical a game on the perimeter as they'll have. To get them in the right mindset, he instructed them to keep anyone from putting hands on them throughout the week. No family, no friends, no girlfriend. "If anybody puts their hands on you during the week, knock it off," he said.
He told them the same this week as they prepare for the Buckeyes.
"Their depth at every position [jumps out]," Walters said. "They’re athletic, they’re big, they’ve got speed, very similar to Michigan in terms of their coverage, they’re going to get up in your face and press you on the outside and they’re not going to give you anything easy. They didn’t play well against Purdue but that’s not the team we’re going to play."
Nebraska is expecting quite a bit of man coverage from the Buckeyes' secondary. It's the type of game, he says, where you beat your guy and you're going to make some big plays happen.
As an offense, the Huskers have broken off at least 15 yards on a pass play 41 times this season. They've been able to do it just fine, the problem is 28 of those chunk plays have gone to either Stanley Morgan Jr. or JD Spielman. Both figure to draw plenty of attention from Ohio State.
"I challenged the offense earlier in the week that there’s going to be a couple plays that need to be made by guys that right now people might not know of," Walters said.
And if other guys don't step up, Nebraska is hoping a ground attack that has continued to get better as the season has gone on can make up the difference. The Huskers are 17th nationally in big play percentage (20-yard gains) despite a passing game that's 105th in marginal explosiveness because the ground attack has been so effective.
"I think it’s a combination," Walters said of the rushing success. "No. 1, the o-line is doing a great job of coming off the ball, understanding their assignments, finishing their blocks. On the perimeter, we’re getting better in terms of our second-level blocks. Running backs are hitting the hole and running hard, I think early in the year we were kinda dancing, tip-toeing but now the guys are confident in what they’re doing."
Though Nebraska expects a different looking Ohio State team than the one that has sort of gone through the last several games half-heartedly, they're still going to be seeing a defense that hasn't been great recently at stopping the run. Walters says there's plenty of confidence on Nebraska's side in their ability to run the ball.
Ohio State has given up at least 160 yards rushing in five of eight games this season. It's a run defense that gives up a 46 percent success rate on standard downs (63rd nationally) and 69 percent of first downs on first or second (64th nationally). Opponents are averaging 4.4 yards a carry and hitting the Buckeyes for 10-yard gains more than all but four Big Ten teams and 20-yard gains more than just one other Big Ten team (Rutgers).
"We’ve got to be able to run the ball," Walters said. "We’ve told the guys that and we’ve done it well in practice so it should carry over in the game."
Nebraska couldn't run the ball against Michigan. The Huskers finished that Sept. 22 game with 39 net yards on 30 carries. A lot of the confidence right now is stemming from the growth the staff has seen offensively since that game.
"It’s night and day," Walters said. "Our practices have been cleaner, you’ve seen on Saturdays the last three or four weeks it’s been cleaner, Michigan we weren’t sure who the quarterback was going to be and still trying to figure out who the receivers were.
"We’re a different team, a different offense and that’s exciting."
Other News and Notes
>> The media did not show up wearing costumes Wednesday and Walters was a little disappointed. "No costumes?" he asked before getting things rolling.
At least the equipment managers got the memo.
— Nebraska Equipment (@NUequipment) October 31, 2018
>> A lingering question this season has been redshirt freshman wideout Jaevon McQuitty. He looked poised for a significant role a season ago before a knee injury cost him the 2017 season and this season McQuitty hasn't made any sort of impact on the field.
He's played in four games but most of that has been special teams work or mop-up duty. McQuitty has yet to catch a pass for Nebraska.
It seems like he's not yet ready.
"He’s coming along. He’s practicing better. To me it’s just confidence, it’s consistency, doing the right things over and over and over with speed, with confidence," Walters said. "He’s coming back from that knee injury. To me he’s still a raw receiver so he’s still learning the position, learning how to get open, learning how to run routes. To his credit, man, he hasn’t played as much as he’d like but he comes to work every day, practices his tail off and he’s got my attention. He’ll continue to get better.”
>> Quarterback coach Mario Verduzco was pretty happy to see Nebraska native Noah Vedral get into the game last Saturday against Bethune-Cookman.
"Him having the opportunity to get his first touchdown here was good for him. It's no secret how much playing in that stadium means to the young guys here in Nebraska," Verduzco said. "Then with his family here… you kind of get emotional just talking about it. I knew that was really important to him. It was great."
Vedral's numbers didn't jump off the page — 2-for-9, 29 yards and a pick, seven carries for 13 yards — but he did run in a 20-yard score that provided a pretty strong feel-good moment.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.