Nebraska’s offensive performance has been up and down so far this season, and now the Huskers are preparing to take on one of the most disruptive defenses in the country when Ohio State comes to town.
In order to keep pace with the high-scoring Buckeyes, Nebraska is going to have to keep quarterback Adrian Martinez upright.
Nebraska gave up two sacks in week one against South Alabama then followed it up with six sacks, all in the second half, at Colorado. The line kept Martinez clean against Northern Illinois in week three.
On Saturday, Nebraska faced the nation’s leader in sacks, Illinois defensive end Oluwole Betiku. As a unit, the Illini had recorded 12 sacks in the first three games including 11 in the first two weeks. Nebraska held the Illini to two sacks, one by Betiku and one to the other defensive end, Ayo Shogboyo.
“They did well,” offensive line coach Greg Austin said about his unit’s performance against Betiku. “We drilled down on him. You’ve got to find out what you’re fighting against. With him, we knew what his go-to moves were. You have to play the game; it’s a chess game. I thought the tackles did, overall, a good job We want one play back, certainly, with the fumble, but other than that our guys did a pretty dang good job against him.”
Betiku lined up against right tackle Matt Farniok most of the night. The play Austin mentioned was a strip-sack where Shogbonyo hit Martinez’s arm as he was winding up to pass and forced a fumble.
The match-up doesn’t get any easier for the tackles this week as the Buckeyes feature defensive end Chase Young, a projected top-fee pick in the 2020 NFL Draft who is tied with Betiku with a nation-leading seven sacks.
“He’s active, he has active hands, good get-off, a very, very savvy player, has a lot of snaps under his belt,” Austin said. “He’s learned from some of the best players, [Nick] Bosa, so he was behind him or played next to him for at least a couple years. He’s a good player and he’s going to find a way. He has a motor that’s probably a little bit different than last year. I’m not going to say he’s playing harder, but he’s laying with just a little bit more edge, more activity, than last year. Certainly a good player. We have our work cut out for us and our guys are up for the challenge.”
Through four games, Young has 14 tackles including 7.5 for loss, two forced fumbles, one pass break-up, one quarterback hurry and one blocked kick. Tight ends coach Sean Beckton compared him to Seattle Seahawks defensive end and former South Carolina standout Jadeveon Clowney.
“He’s a tremendous talent with his physical stature,” Beckton said. “He plays with a lot of passion. He’s very quick. He plays with a lot of power. We have a challenge there to get it done this week. We spent some time with Coach [Dustin] Haines looking at really both of the ends. We do it every week but we make a cut up of those guys and see what we need to block and how we need to release off them. We spent a little bit more time in that area this week. It’s a challenge. We’ll see how we do on Saturday.”
Ohio State has had seven different defensive linemen record at least half a sack so far this season, and that doesn’t even include senior Jonathon Cooper who had 2.5 sacks last season but has yet to appear in a game this year. In total, Ohio State has recorded 20 sacks this season, tops in college football.
“You have to prepare for all of them,” Austin said. “The only ones you don’t prepare for or the ones that have been confirmed out. These guys, they have similar abilities and they’re coached really well. So when you see one, you’re going to see some of the same sauce, if you will, from the next guy.”
With talent all across the line, the tackles aren’t the only ones who will be in for a challenge on Saturday. The interior linemen will have to be on their A-game as well. Austin said he’s seen significant growth from his redshirt freshmen, center Cameron Jurgens and left guard Trent Hixson.
“Those kids, every week they’re learning something new, they’re learning better ways to communicate, they’re learning how to play the game,” Austin said. “And when I say how to play the game, I’m talking about people just think you just go out there and you run plays, but there’s so much information to be gathered between you getting the signal and the snapping of the ball. For those guys, getting the feel of the reps against opponents, they’re production has actually been better in the third and fourth quarters than it has been in the first quarter, and the reason being you can tell those guys get comfortable in knowing and understanding, getting that innate feel for what they’re looking for, what they’re looking at, settling themselves down.
“It’s been really cool to see how they’ve progressed, even in the midst of the game. When they come off to the sideline, I come off the sideline with information, we talk through the game plan from our standpoint and we talk about what they’re doing to combat our scheme and our techniques. They’re just getting better, can’t ask for much more from them.”
Nebraska’s offense will face its most difficult test yet on Saturday, and with pass-rushers like Chase Young to deal with, an upset will begin in the trenches.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.