Nebraska’s 26-17 loss to No. 5 Ohio State ensures that the Huskers won’t qualify for a bowl game for the fifth straight season. While the Buckeyes were the more talented team, and one that is eyeing the College Football Playoff, the Huskers hung tough with head coach Ryan Day’s squad.
You remember the highlights, but we’ve rewatched the game and chose five under-the-radar plays that, although not flashy, still were important to Nebraska’s upset bid.
JoJo Domann’s pass breakup
Nebraska’s nickel defender, JoJo Domann, played one of his best games as a Husker. NFL scouts will likely notice, as he displayed a variety of skills that defenses at the next level would love to have at their disposal.
On the play above, Ohio State is faced with a first-and-10 from its own 41-yard line. There’s under a minute left in the first half, so the Buckeyes are looking to throw the ball downfield to at least get into field goal range. The offense is in 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) while Nebraska counters with its dime package, featuring two down linemen (Ben Stille and Deontre Thomas), two outside linebackers (Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor), an inside linebacker (Luke Reimer), five defensive backs (Cam Taylor-Britt, Quinton Newsome, Braxton Clark, Marquel Dismuke and Myles Farmer) and Domann.
Domann is in man-to-man coverage with tight end Jeremy Ruckert (88), who bends his route toward the middle of the field. Domann sticks on Ruckert well here and lays out to knock the ball away with his right hand. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Domann records the pass breakup while fully extending to get to the ball. Great stuff from Nebraska’s sixth-year senior who finished with nine tackles (six solos), one interception, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.
Austin Allen’s 26-yard grab
Austin Allen is a player who fans would have loved to see get more production than his two-catch, 33-yard outing against the Buckeyes. One of his catches, however, was a great play and a cool design, too.
On the play above, Nebraska’s offense is faced with a second-and-6 from its own 29 yard line. It comes out in 11 personnel with Allen, the 6-foot-9 tight end, lined up behind and to the outside of the left tackle Turner Corcoran. After the snap, center Cam Jurgens pulls to his left to help protect quarterback Adrian Martinez, who acts like he’s going to hand the ball off to running back Rahmir Johnson. That simple run fake in the backfield, along with Jurgen’s pull, draws in Ohio State’s two linebackers in the middle of the field.
Allen runs his seam route right behind where Ohio State’s linebackers would have been, and Martinez puts the ball on the money. The Huskers also look like they caught the Buckeyes in a blitz, as nickel defender Marcus Williamson and linebacker Tommy Eichenberg both bypass Allen after the snap and continue to rush Martinez.
Allen’s catch helped keep the drive alive. It eventually ended with points as kicker Chase Contreraz connected from 39 yards.
Quinton Newsome runs down Chris Olave
On the play above, Ohio State is faced with a third-and-10 from the Husker 46-yard line. There’s only 10 seconds left, so Ohio State wants a quick completion and to get out of bounds because it’s out of timeouts.
The Buckeyes come out in 11 personnel with a two-by-two set. Nebraska is in man coverage across the board. Chris Olave, one of the nation’s best receivers, runs a drag route to the field, or long side. Olave does a good job of trying to use the referee as a natural barrier to slow his defender, Newsome, but Newsome does a great job of trailing and sifting through traffic to stop Olave short of the sticks, and most importantly, in bounds to keep the clock running.
If Newsome didn’t catch Olave, he would’ve easily gotten out of bounds to stop the clock and Ohio State would’ve attempted a field goal with a kicker who is still perfect on the season. Newsome’s stellar play kept Nebraska’s halftime deficit at 17-10 instead of potentially 20-10.
Ben Stille’s quick hands
Ben Stille, the pride of Ashland-Greenwood High School, was in the Buckeye backfield many times on Saturday and was a key member of a Blackshirt defense that gave the nation’s best offense problems.
On the play above, Ohio State faces a second-and-12 from the Husker 36-yard line. The Buckeyes are in 11 personnel (the tight end, Ruckert, is split out wide) and want to run a draw with their excellent freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson. Stille has a one-on-one battle with right guard Paris Johnson Jr. and wins.
At the snap, Johnson engages Stille, but Nebraska’s sixth-year senior meets him with his left shoulder and pushes him away with a right-arm punch to get in the backfield. Henderson had nowhere to go as Stille records the tackle for loss.
Garrett Nelson responds from penalties, strip-sacks C.J. Stroud
Nebraska outside linebacker Garrett Nelson, an in-state product from Scottsbluff, was penalized twice for being offsides on Saturday. While he’d like to have those two plays back, you can’t fault the player for his effort and sheer will to get to the quarterback.
On the play above, Nelson’s excellent effort almost gave his team the ball in a one-score game with under 2 minutes left. Ohio State comes out in 11 personnel once again and is faced with a first-and-10 at the Nebraska 34. Instead of running the ball and working clock, the Buckeyes choose to throw (Stroud threw 54 passes on Saturday). It almost ended in disaster as Nelson ripped through the block of left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and stripped Stroud.
The ball bounced on the Tom Osborne turf four times before Buckeye center Luke Wypler corralled it.