"We're going to have to create big plays," Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters said on Wednesday. "This is not a defense where you're going to be able to go 12 plays, 15 plays. We've got to find explosives in run game and in the pass game. We'll continue to study film to figure out how to get us in situations to create explosives."
I'd be very interested in what those film sessions are like this week as the Huskers' offensive staff goes looking for those explosive-play opportunities against Ohio State. My guess is they'll find the opportunities they see.
The setup here is classic and simple: Nebraska's offense has been good at getting explosive plays (defined here as runs of 10-plus yards and passes of 15-plus) and Ohio State's defense has been bad at preventing them. While there are other explosiveness measures that will tell you more about magnitude, if you want a simple frequency measure I like explosive-plays percentage (explosive plays/total plays).
The Huskers' offense ranks 14th nationally at 18.8 percent. Maryland leads the Big Ten at 20.2 percent and, like Nebraska, is doing most of its damage on the ground. The Huskers are hitting an explosive run on 22.8 percent of downs. Only Oklahoma (23.8%) and the Terps (23.0%) have been better through eight games this season. This Nebraska offense needed just six games to eclipse last season's total of explosive rushes. And that's been enough to keep the Huskers high in the overall rankings despite a passing game that ranks 92nd in explosiveness (though Nebraska has been upping the ante on that front in recent weeks).
In the gray corner, you have an Ohio State defense that's pretty good overall with one crippling weakness. The Buckeyes rank 101st nationally in explosive-plays percentage (16.2), 81st in passes (16.3) and 97th in rushes (16.1). At least Ohio State is consistent, I guess.
But more shocking than the frequency with which Ohio State is giving up "explosives" might be the magnitude of those plays. The Buckeyes are the only team in the country to have allowed two plays of 90-plus yards. Granted, those plays are pretty rare anyway but from 2012 to 2017 Ohio State had allowed one total. The Buckeyes allowed touchdown runs of 80 and 78 yards in the opener against Oregon State, after not allowing any runs over 70 yards in 2015, 2016 or 2017. It has been bizarre to watch and hard to figure out.
On paper, at least in this specific matchup, it all seems to set up well for the Huskers. When Walters turns on the film again, he probably won't have a hard time finding explosive-play opportunities.
Now executing those plays against a battered-but-still-top-10 team on the road, a team that's on a 118-17 scoring run against Nebraska over the past two years, remains an entirely different threshold. All of which makes this Saturday's game one of the more fascinating Nebraska games in recent memory.
The Grab Bag
- Must-read from Erin Sorensen on Nebraska basketball freshman Brady Heiman.
- Really good read here from Derek Peterson as well on Nebraska's two-man running back rotation.
- Nebraska is right on track in terms of recruiting writes Greg Smith.
- The new No Huddle is out and it's a good one.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.