Ohio State shares may be trading at a low for the 2018 season right now. Combine the Purdue loss with rumors of Urban Meyer unrest (followed by denials of that unrest) with a bye week followed by a suddenly open admission of health issues for Meyer and the Buckeyes went from unbeaten to perhaps undervalued in the span of about 10 days in October.
There do seem to be some legitimate, un-Ohio-State-like issues with this team and that's always going to grab attention. While it's fun for opponents to gawk at that, it's also probably distracting from the fact that this team is still 7-1. The Purdue game, the inciting incident for many of these concerns to come to a head, was a strange one. Ohio State outgained the Boilermakers, created more scoring opportunities and only lost the turnover battle by one.
This Ohio State team may not have perfect profile of a playoff contender we've come to expect, but there are still plenty of scary traits in Columbus. Here are three to consider ahead of Nebraska's post-Halloween visit to the Horseshoe.
1. This is still one of the most efficient offenses in the country, by the numbers. Ohio State hasn't averaged more than 4 yards per carry since Meyer's return in Week 4. It threw the ball more than 40 times in every game this month, including 73 attempts against Purdue. Despite that recent imbalance, the Buckeyes still rank ninth in success rate and 10th in marginal efficiency. This is a hard offense to get off schedule, even with a substandard run game, and that makes Ohio State a hard team to beat. Nebraska's defense has been below-average in this category, ranking 79th in success rate, which is actually outperforming its expectation by 4.5 percentage points (69th in marginal efficiency). The Boilermakers survived with red-zone stops (or some bizarre red-zone failings from Ohio State depending upon your perspective). Nebraska might have to hope for a similar scenario to unfold.
2. QB Dwayne Haskins is a handful to defend. The lack of a quarterback run threat appears to have had a big impact on the Buckeyes' run game as a whole, but it's not like we haven't seen a team totally abandon the run and still beat Nebraska already this year (see also: Northwestern). Haskins is a big reason why that has been a winning strategy. His 71.1 completion percentage ranks fifth in the country and that's on at least 59 more attempts than any of the guys ahead of him. Eight of Ohio State's 10 receivers with at least 10 targets on the season have a catch rate better than 70 percent. You don't do that without some very good accuracy. The challenge here for Nebraska's secondary is, well, significant.
3. The Buckeyes defense can be busted, but it's had a big buffer zone. Ohio State's defense is fine in terms of efficiency, good even, but it's been decimated by big plays. That's good news for a Nebraska offense that seems to be going downfield more of late and has shown the ability to be pretty explosive on its own. That said, the Huskers are merely average in Bill Connelly's explosiveness measure (which measures big plays by the expected points added). I'm guessing the primary reason for that is because Nebraska's offense has had the second-worst starting field position in the country. A 20-yard gain is great anywhere, but in terms of altering expected drive outcomes that same gain is worth less from a team's own 20 than it is from its own 45. The longer the field, the more big plays a defense can survive, and that's basically the game Ohio State has played. The Buckeyes rank fourth nationally in defensive field position, which hits Nebraska right in one of its weak points. Field position can be tough to assess –– for a defense it's a combination of how the offense moves the ball, avoids turnovers and special teams success — but the difference here is stark and it's one that likely has to shrink on Saturday if the Huskers are to continue harboring dreams of an upset.
Oh, and Happy Halloween.
The Grab Bag
- Husker fans got a Halloween-morning treat with the commitment of 3-star cornerback Javin Wright. Greg Smith offers five thoughts here.
- Speaking of recruiting, good read on the impact Scott Frost could have in the Big Ten from Ohio State site, Eleven Warriors.
- Couple of D-Line reads: Ben Stille on his Blackshirt and Mike Dawson assesses the recent play up front.
- Who are all the people on the Nebraska volleyball bench? Lauren West offers answers in her latest column.
Today's Song of Today
If you want a Halloween playlist that includes more than just "Monster Mash" and includes a bunch of scary obscurities, I highly recommend this one.
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.