This Nebraska is No Longer Scared of Ohio State
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

This Nebraska is No Longer Scared of Ohio State

September 26, 2019

The quarterbacks have changed. Nebraska has its guy of the future and a guy who people legitimately believe can lead the Huskers to great things.

The defense has changed. Nebraska has an identity now. (And they know what their coach wants them to do, which seems like it wouldn’t be that big an accomplishment, but. . .)

The talent has been upgraded. 

The head coach is one people believe in now. The system on offense is trusted. The process is embraced. The guy has people’s patience. 

But the biggest change in this game has nothing to do with the physical changes either program has undergone over the last few seasons. Nebraska is two years removed from a 56-14 home loss that was at one point 42-0 in front of a half-empty Memorial Stadium. It’s three years removed from a 62-3 demolition. What’s the difference between this year’s game and those?

”I would just say the confidence that we belong on the same field with them and that we can play them as closely as possible,” senior inside linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “Believing that we can win if we play our best football. I think in the past, prior to last year, I didn't think that everyone felt like we belonged on the same field as them. So that was the difference in last year. Believing in the scheme, playing with technique, playing with fundamentals and stuff like that. That was the biggest thing and biggest difference.”

Nebraska isn’t scared of the fifth-ranked team in college football. 

Quarterback Adrian Martinez said on BTN this week he wouldn’t view a Nebraska win over Ohio State as an upset. Nebraska is supposed to be able to beat the Buckeyes. It shouldn’t be a shock when it happens. 

When the Big Ten realigned its divisions and placed Ohio State and Michigan on one side and Nebraska and Wisconsin on the other, this is what it envisioned. Big games against two of its winningest programs. Marque moments. The Buckeyes have held up their end of the bargain, Nebraska hasn’t. 

But the guys who will play key roles in this year’s game — Martinez, Cam Taylor-Britt, Wan’Dale Robinson, Maurice Washington, Darrion Daniels, JoJo Domann, etc. — weren’t around for those past drubbings, or they were on the sideline helpless to do anything. 

Those 2016 and 2017 very well may haunt guys who played and have since moved on. The memories of a 62-3 loss are probably a little bitter. Taylor-Britt was asked what he remembers from last year’s game.

“We lost by five points,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen again.”

If Nebraska surprised Ohio State last year, it won’t this year. The Buckeyes have Nebraska’s full attention. A ranked Michigan State team waits on deck, but this game is on ABC under the lights of Memorial Stadium. The Buckeyes heard all summer about how the Huskers were now the trendy team to make it to Indianapolis. 

There might be some worry, given how Nebraska dragged its feet to open last week’s game, that waiting around all day could lead to a sluggish start from the Huskers, but the expectation within the coaching staff is these guys are itching to go.

“[Last year’s game] was the first game where I just saw a really good look in their eyes before the game,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “We went out there for that first series when the onside kick went haywire on us and we made that big stand. I think that kind of set the tone. We got some turnovers, which was huge in that game, and I think they played really, really hard.”

He said the Buckeyes presented Nebraska with some things formationally they just didn’t fit properly because they were still getting guys comfortable in the base of the system. That shouldn’t be the case this time around. 

Chinander has confidence in his guys. Especially up front. Nebraska’s offensive line trying to hold a Buckeye front seven with multiple NFL talents at bay is an incredibly tall task, but the disparity between the Huskers’ defensive line and Ohio State’s offensive line? That’s not as big as it used to be. Strength coach Zach Duval has had two full offseasons to work with rotational guys in Ben Stille, Deontre Thomas, Damion Daniels and the Davis brothers, and Darrion Daniels comes in ready-made for moments like this. 

“I think our d-line’s pretty good, so I think that’s going to be a really good matchup up front, I think it’s going to be competitive,” Chinander said. “I don’t think they’ve seen a defensive line as good as ours and we probably haven’t seen an offensive line as good as their’s. I’m looking forward to that matchup.”

Ask yourself this: When was the last time you felt good about Nebraska physically matching up with one of the Big Ten’s premiere teams?

Another: How many of Nebraska’s skill guys would play significant snaps on Ohio State’s offense? Washington would. Robinson certainly would. Spielman would. 

Robinson is the kind of kid who, as a true freshman, went up to his head coach on multiple occasions to ask for the football in a road game. “I got you,” he told Frost, as he piled up a career-high 168 yards and three scores. He said he’s never going to not want the football. 

We already know Spielman is fearless

It remains to be seen whether this can actually lead to a Nebraska win. The Huskers will have to outplay what most believe is a better, more put-together football team. Maybe believing they can go toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes is only good for a 36-31 loss at this point in the program’s rebuild. 

But the first step back is belief. 

“This is how you expect college football to be when you’re at Nebraska,” said senior cornerback Lamar Jackson. “This is the type of attention we want. We’ve got to just capitalize and protect our house.”

Nebraska won’t blink.

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