Ohio State's offense had the Big Ten's top running attack in 2017, averaging 243.2 yards per game. Three of the starters from the Buckeyes' 2017 offensive line returned, as well as running backs J.K. Dobbins, who set the freshman school-record in 2017 with 1,403 yards, and Mike Weber, who had six 100-yard rushing games and 19 rushing touchdowns in 2017. Going into the season, it felt like Ohio State's run game would be a big concern for opposing defenses.
Instead, the Buckeyes excelled at their passing game (ranking No. 2 nationally in passing offense) and No. 8 in third-down conversions (49.2 percent). However, Ohio State is now 69th nationally in rushing (averaging 171.8 yards per game) and 116th in red zone efficiency (only scoring 22 touchdowns on 37 trips inside the 20-yard line).
Looking specifically at the run game, it's actually gotten worse for Ohio State throughout the season. Only looking at the previous four games, the rushing yard average dropped to 110.2.
On the other hand, Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins has completed 71.1 perecent of his passes this season. He's averaging 350.1 yards per game, and is also leading the nation with 30 touchdown passes.
It'd make sense if Nebraska's defense was focused on Ohio State's passing game. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander acknowledged the challenge ahead for the Huskers' defense, especially against a guy like Haskins.
"He can throw it, he can run it pretty accurately when he has to," Chinander said following Tuesday's practice. "I think he can make all the throws and I think he's very well-coached on where to go with the football when he can tell what coverage it is.
"I think he's right at the top with guys we've played."
While Haskins is one of the better quarterbacks Nebraska has seen this season, there are also areas where Chinander knows the Huskers can take advantage of Ohio State. Chinander and the Nebraska staff have looked at what Purdue did, who beat the Buckeyes 49-20 two weeks ago.
"If you watch through the game, Ohio State walked down the field a little bit and Purdue found a way to get a stop and then they got going again a little bit and Purdue found a way to get a stop. That kind went on forever," Chinander said. "I thought their kids played really tough and really hard the whole game and they never quit and I thought they did a really nice job."
While Haskins completed 49-of-73 passing attempts for 470 yards against Purdue, there were quite a few missed opportunities for the Buckeyes. Haskins and his receivers struggled to connect on a few key touchdown passes in the first three quarters of the game.
And there are lessons Nebraska can learn from how Purdue played Ohio State.
"They have a lot of formations, a lot of different plays so we just have to be ready for everything," Chinander said. "It's going to be important to keep those points down as low as we can. Even if something, a play happens or a couple of first downs go, you've got to keep going, keep going and try to get a turnover, get off the field on third and fourth down, kind of like Purdue did."
Could backup quarterback Tate Martell be the answer to some of Ohio State's running woes? Could Nebraska see him in place of Haskins in the red zone? Maybe, but Chinander isn't betting on it.
"If your game plan is to be that they'll come out and run the football, I think they're going to do what they feel best about being on the field and obviously they feel Haskins gives them the best chance to win," Chinander said. "I think they'll manufacture a way to run the football with him in the game."
More news and notes:
>> After initially declining his Blackshirt after the Minnesota win, defensive end Ben Stille was back in black on Tuesday. Stille has previously said he wanted is all-around performance from practice to the game to earn the coveted jersey, which Chinander and the staff felt he accomplished over the last week.
"Coach Frost gives the 'Players of the Game' at every position and he was the defensive line guy for us," Chinander said. "He had a couple of attacks, I think TFL and a sack. He practiced well and he played well."
>> True freshman walk-on Simon Otte saw some playing time against Bethune-Cookman, which was really fun for outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt.
"He was a late arrival into camp but somebody that’s really adopted learning and knowing what to do so it was really cool to be able to get him into a game and watch him get a tackle," Dewitt said. "That was as exciting a thing for me as I’ve seen in a long time.”
>> Mick Stoltenberg resurfaced on Nebraska's depth chart on Monday, but this time at defensive end. Stille provided a little context into the decision following Tuesday's practice.
“DaiShon’s been down, so just trying to add some depth at end," Stille said. "We only have me, Freedom and Khalil, so three guys the whole game. I mean, it’s fine but if someone goes down we’re really in a bind. It’s just adding depth there. He’s playing nose as well. He’s versatile enough to play both positions."
Stille also confirmed Stoltneberg has been taking reps at nose, so Nebraska will see him at both spots.
>> Chinander said the defensive has to limit everything with Ohio State, and also be sound everywhere. Cornerback Lamar Jackson said essentially the same thing on Tuesday, noting that Nebraska can't ignore one player at any time.
"The best thing they have going for them is all the guys they rotate in are at least decent," Jackson said. "It's not really one wide receiver that you can talk a play off and take it easy. You have to make sure you are on your stuff technique-wise each and every snap. Each play the ball could be coming your way. You have to fight hard to stay in position each and every play then try to compete once the ball gets in the air."
>> Nebraska has preached the importance of staying consistent with habits, regardless of opponent. Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said it's easy to fall out of good habits in a big game, but the Huskers are working hard to ensure that doesn't happen this weekend.
"VIts why you come to Nebraska to play Ohio State," Ruud said. "When you overdo that part of it, it leads to mistakes because you try to do something that you don't need to do. All we are asking guys to do is what they practiced this week.
"If you aren't ready to play Ohio State, you shouldn't be here but it's all about falling back on your habits."
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.