When Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco wrote up his scouting report for the players this week, he didn’t refer to Ohio State’s offense as “a spread.” No, to Diaco what the Buckeyes bring to Lincoln this Saturday is “the spread.”
“I did it purposefully,” Diaco said, “because Coach [Urban] Meyer’s offense from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida to Ohio State has made people famous. It’s made players famous. It’s made coaches famous. His coaching tree is all around the country. They’re all basically running that offense. Whether they tweak it a little bit, most don’t. And it’s pretty awesome.
“You can start there. Unfortunately, I’ve had a chance to see it many times.”
As a young assistant at Eastern Michigan, Diaco faced Meyer’s Bowling Green team in 2002. In 2009, Diaco was the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati. The Bearcats faced Florida in the Sugar Bowl, a 51-24 win for the Gators.
The challenge this week won’t be any easier. Ohio State ranks eighth nationally in rushing yards per play, 14th in passing yards per attempt, fifth in total yards per play and are averaging 45.8 points per game, which ranks fifth. It’s an offense that can stress teams in almost every way.
“And then you go to the players,” Diaco said. “Really talented offensive players. Veteran offensive line that’s long and athletic.”
Yes, the Buckeyes are still talented. There’s the quarterback, J.T. Barrett, who ranks second in passer rating in the Big Ten behind the guy the Huskers faced last week, Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook.
“I’m sure he feels like an extension of the coaching staff out there and they feel like that about him,” Diaco said of Barrett.
Then there’s freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, second in the Big Ten in rushing behind the guy the Huskers faced last week, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.
“He’s got elite stop-start speed,” Diaco said of Dobbins. “If you’re looking for a unique trait, he’s kind of a jump-cut runner and he can accelerate to full speed very, very quickly.”
There’s also Mike Weber, a freshman All-American at running back last year and a 1,000-yard rusher. He’s seen his role diminished somewhat due to Dobbins, but is still tied for the team lead with four rushing touchdowns.
“Breaks tackle, good speed, good quickness, can do all the jobs,” Diaco said of the Buckeyes’ backup. “He’s maybe utilized in the passing game a little more.” Weber only has three receptions, but he’s averaging 21 yards on those catches.
So how does a defense defend an offense like this with so many weapons?
Disco returned to his aviation and altitude analogy, which he used following the Wisconsin game. Against some teams, he said, you’re flying at 8,000 feet. Against teams like Wisconsin and Ohio State, you’re flying at 40,000 feet where every mistake is magnified.
“It needs to be perfect,” Diaco said. That’s the Huskers’ challenge this week.
On to some other notes from Tuesday’s practice:
>>Diaco said he went to bed Saturday night after the Wisconsin game “really upset.”
“I felt like we got pushed around and mauled and beat up a little bit,” he said. “That did not happen.”
That revelation came after watching the film. Diaco noted that the Badgers didn’t score their first offensive touchdown of the game until Taylor’s 75-yard touchdown run with 1:20 remaining in the first half, a play Diaco called “ridiculous” and “completely preventable.”
The second touchdown didn’t come until there were 5 minutes left in the third quarter, but at that point the Badgers were able to move into ground-and-pound mode, a dangerous spot to be against an offense like that. But Diaco still came away optimistic overall after watching the game tape.
“All those plays in the final 19 minutes of the game, because it really was two scores to that point, so 41 minutes defended by those players really pretty stout and pretty well,” he said.
“You grade and you watch it and you’re encouraged. You can’t help but be encouraged. I was encouraged. You’re disappointed – I don’t want to minimize that for Husker nation – but encouraged about the future.”
>>Safeties Antonio Reed and Aaron Williams were both in street clothes at practice.
Williams spoke after practice and confirmed what Mike Riley said earlier this week, that he’s just dealing with a soft tissue neck injury and that “everything’s good.”
>>Cornerback Chris Jones saw his first action of the 2017 season on Saturday recording two tackles, and completing a return that was much quicker than the most optimistic projections.
“At first when it happened I was down but I thought to myself there’s no reason to be down,” he said. “Just fight and keep pushing myself every single day. I told myself I would keep pushing myself and if I come back early, I come back early. I just prayed about it and knew I would be back."
We’ll have more on Jones and his return later this week.
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.