LINCOLN, Nebraska — No. 9 Ohio State (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) extended its win streak to five games when it defeated Nebraska (3-4, 2-2 Big Ten) 56-14 at Memorial Stadium Saturday evening. Here are four of our takeaways.
One of just two numbers hangs, flanking the five Nebraska national championship years, on the east side of the Memorial Stadium bleachers, as it touts the NCAA record 359 consecutive sellouts. The history was not lost on Ohio State as its players continually complimented the passionate fanbase before and after the matchup.
“They don’t really give up a lot of seats to the opposing team fans, so it’s just us out there on the field,” redshirt senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis said.
Cornhuskers fans piled into the stands Saturday night, just as they do for every every game. And even though Nebraska was a 24.5 point underdog, they did not anticipate what would happen as the Buckeyes put up 56 points, the most ever by a conference opponent in the stadium.
The capacity crowd brought energy and bred excitement near kickoff. But after freshman running back J.K. Dobbins scampered 52 yards for a touchdown, the optimism began dwindling.
“I think it settled us down a little bit, settled the crowd down because it was definitely rocking at the beginning of the game and throughout that first half a little bit,” redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett said.
The second-half silence was deafening. Thousands of fans packed up their belongings and headed for the exits by halftime with the Cornhuskers down five touchdowns and the home team’s offense stagnating and the defense yet to keep the Buckeyes out of the end zone. Off the field, given the fanfare and immense support, Nebraska still feels like a top program. But on the field, no one would ever know this was once a great football program.
Injury updates and when should starters be pulled?
Just a week after after losing right guard Branden Bowen for the season with a broken leg, a trio of starters — H-back Parris Campbell, left tackle Jamarco Jones and defensive end Jalyn Holmes — went down as they suffered injuries that ended their respective nights early. Ohio State avoided catastrophe as none of them should miss any future games due to their injuries.
Campbell, who was hit by redshirt freshman defensive back Dicaprio Bootle in the first quarter and never returned, was held out for precautionary reasons, head coach Urban Meyer said after the game. Meyer also said Jones and Holmes, who were injured in the third quarter, were “dinged up.” Lewis said Holmes was sidelined due to a head-to-head hit with junior safety Damon Webb.
“[Holmes is] good. I talked to him. It’s always sad to see someone go down like that,” Lewis said. “Other than that, he’s good though, he’s in good spirits.”
Despite leading 35-0 at halftime and extending the lead less than four minutes into the third quarter, Ohio State kept its starters in the game until nearly the fourth quarter. Meyer spoke this week about wanting to pull his starters earlier, but it did not seem to be much of a concern to him, even though Holmes and Jones suffered their injuries in the second half when the game was out of reach.
“They scored a couple touchdowns on us and we kept them in until [it] for sure was over,” Meyer said. “You just didn’t want to get into one of those games where they’re scoring and scoring and scoring, putting our defense in bad field position.”
Sure, the Cornhuskers put together a string of two touchdowns in about five minutes, but the Buckeyes controlled a 49-14 lead. Keeping the starters on the field that late in a blowout risked the health of players like Holmes and Jones, who is arguably the most irreplaceable Buckeye.
Demetrius Knox beats out Matt Burrell for starting spot
On this week’s depth chart, redshirt junior Demetrius Knox and redshirt sophomore Matt Burrell were listed as co-starters at right guard. At a press conference Wednesday, Meyer said he had in mind who would start, but he played it coy, not divulging who would take the first snap.
Burrell was the favorite to start as he filled in for Bowen after the redshirt sophomore was carted off the field in last weekend’s game against Maryland. He was even announced as the starter by the public address announcer just minutes prior to the game. But Burrell did not start. Instead, Knox took the snaps with the first-team offense Saturday night.
“Demetrius stepped in very well. I was satisfied with what he did today,” redshirt senior center Billy Price said. “Obviously Ohio State wants to watch film to see what we can improve on and that next step toward the next game.”
Meyer and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa have said consistency is the most important trait linemen can offer. Apparently, Burrell has failed to live up to their standards. Then-freshman Michael Jordan beat Burrell out for the starting left guard spot prior to the 2016 season, Bowen beat Burrell out for the starting right guard spot in fall camp and Knox beat Burrell out this week.
As a redshirt sophomore, this likely will not be Burrell’s final position battle. But the next starting spot he earns would be the first.
On to Penn State. Finally.
For weeks, Ohio State players had been asked about the Buckeyes’ Oct. 28 game against No. 3 Penn State. Everyone gave similar answers about taking the season one game at a time. They were not being truthful. Ohio State has had an eye on redemption since the clock ticked down to zero last year in the Nittany Lions’ 24-21 upset of the Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium.
Lewis admitted he has had his eye on this game for a while, even though he said after the win against Maryland that his focus was on beating Nebraska.
“It’s a big game for us, especially for the D-line. They have a great running attack so it’s always a challenge when you have great running back like that,” Lewis said. “That’s why you come here and play in those big-time games.”
A loss to Penn State would almost certainly eliminate the Buckeyes from College Football Playoff contention, and a loss to Ohio State might keep the Nittany Lions out of the playoff.
“We know what’s coming next,” Meyer said. “It’s very clear and that conversation was had.”
Less than two weeks until the likely top-five matchup, there are no more smoke screens for Ohio State. Penn State is next.