From 1968 to the start of the 2017 season, a span of 50 seasons, three programs were ranked in 80 percent of all the possible Associated Press polls. Two of them, Ohio State (86.3 percent of AP polls) and Nebraska (82.6 percent), play this weekend. (Michigan is the third, and was tied with the Huskers.)
Considering that the two teams playing this weekend were that solid over such a long stretch, the fact that Ohio State and Nebraska have only played five times feels like something of an anomaly. This is just the Buckeyes’ second trip to Lincoln. In a vacuum, it all reads like something that should be a rare football clash of titans.
Of course, right now, it’s not. The Huskers are 3-3 and still a 24-point underdog. Under Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have outscored Nebraska 125-41 in two games. Whatever rarefied air these two programs shared for decades upon decades, they don’t share it right now.
Meyer was asked about that at his press conference Wednesday:
Reporter: “Nebraska the whole time you were growing up was one of the great programs in the country. They’ve gone through a down period as most college programs have. Ohio State is sort of the exception. How hard is it to stay at the top for as long as Ohio State has and do you understand the challenge they have not having a big recruiting base?”
He didn’t take the bait.
Meyer: “We’ve got great respect for Nebraska. Tom Osborne is a very good friend of mine, I know what that stadium is going to be like. It’s been a while since I’ve been there. We’re so busy trying to function as a program to worry about what you just said.
“We’re getting ready for a very good team that plays a unique-style of defense and if this quarterback catches fire he’s a very accurate passer.”
I never like “sorry, so busy” explanations because everyone feels like they’re busy, but not surprised Meyer used one here. Would have been interesting to get his actual thoughts on that question because it’s an interesting one.
So we’ll move on to the other thing one of the two or three best coaches in the game actually had to say about Nebraska in his only availability of the week — the Blackshirts.
In the comment included above, he called Nebraska’s defense “unique” and returned to that thought later during the Q&A session. What makes the Huskers' defense unique?
It’s not the odd front. “That used to be an oddity, play on words there,” Meyer said. “It used to be unique. It’s not unique any more.”
Rather, Meyer was talking about how the Huskers play defense under defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
“They’re NFL. They’re pure two-gap. Drop eight is their day-one install,” Meyer said. “When they first install it you see it on video tape. It’s the type of defense that you’re going to have to work for everything. You’re not going to have very many shots downfield the way they play. They’re very sound in what they do. Their secondary, they keep everything in front of them and they rally up and run to the ball very, very well. They kind of give you the short stuff. They’re very well coached.”
The sort of thing an opposing coach says every week, or is there some legitimate respect there even though Nebraska’s defense has been somewhat up-and-down?
We know from earlier in the week that the reverse respect, Diaco-to-Meyer, certainly exists, and it wouldn’t surprise me much if Meyer was genuine here. Even if the Blackshirts aren’t fully ready to run that system with the utmost efficiency yet, maybe the philosophical underpinning of it all is still apparent enough and worthy of some admiration.
(Or, as one small part of my brain continues to think, maybe it’s more a bit of surprise: “You’re trying to run that with college kids? Good luck to you.”)
It’s impossible to tell from a press conference transcription, but in a game that is perhaps most notable for its lack of intrigue at the moment, Ohio State’s re-engineered offense against Nebraska’s “developing defense” might be the most interesting matchup headed into Saturday.
The Grab Bag
- The USA Today staff debates Washington State coach Mike Leach's idea for a 16-team playoff.
- Connor O'Gara of Saturday Down South makes the case that Scott Frost should be every bit as coveted as a coaching prospect as Tom Herman was last year.
- Nebraska volleyball dropped its first Big Ten game of the year, falling to Wisconsin 3-1 on Wednesday in Madison.
- ICYMI: The latest edition of "No Huddle" is out and Derek Peterson writes on the strides made by Tanner Lee the past two weeks.
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.