Ohio State vs. Nebraska: Why Nebraska Will Notch Their First Big Ten Win
October 1 was anything but satisfying for the Nebraska Huskers.
Along with an estimated ten-to-fifteen thousand fans, the Huskers rolled into Madison for a game that was billed as the most anticipated on the Big Ten conference schedule. Husker fans were disappointed, as Wisconsin humiliated Nebraska to the tune of 48 points while yielding just 17.
The backlash of that game has been felt by some of the Huskers players, and Quarterback Taylor Martinez was the center of much of the criticism. According to the Lincoln Journal Star, a girl in Martinez's Spanish class told him to "stop throwing interceptions."
It has certainly been a rough week in Lincoln, but with Nebraska set to host Ohio State, Big Red will be ready to notch their first Big Ten win in the "What-if Bowl," and here are four reasons why...
The Big Three Are Healthy on Defense
For the first time in 2011, the big three on defense, which consists of Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard, are healthy. That is big news for Bo Pelini and the Huskers.
Crick didn't play against Wyoming and Dennard played extensively for the first time this season at Wisconsin, but the three are now collectively healthy. All three are prime NFL prospects, and they are all great against the run.
That run support ability will be crucial against Ohio State this weekend, a team that has not established its passing game. The Buckeyes will likely turn to Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall and Rod Smith more times than not and attempt to keep the explosive Husker offense on the sidelines.
We may give Alfonzo Dennard the benefit of the doubt on last weeks performance. He hadn't seen extended playing time this season due to a leg injury and was going up against one of the most physically gifted receivers in the country.
Now that he is healthy, he will be counted on to back up his preseason accolades while providing leadership in a young secondary.
Lavonte David was a rare bright spot on the Nebraska defense last week as he recorded 7 tackles and 2 sacks. He is a tackling machine, one who has been crucial to Nebraska's clutch plays all season, and that will continue on Saturday evening.
After missing the Huskers' game in Laramie, Jared Crick returned last week against Wisconsin. We may not know if he was at 100 percent, but he certainly was able to get to Russell Wilson. The only problem is that Wisconsin doesn't give up too many sacks.
For Crick and David alike, they will get their fair share of opportunities to get to the Buckeyes' quarterback, as Ohio State allowed nine sacks last week against Michigan State. Until Ohio State can prove that they can keep a defense on its heels, expect Carl Pelini to bring the heat and let his secondary physically match-up with the Ohio State receivers.
Tim Beck's Playcalling Will Improve
Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck became subject of criticism last weekend.
Some felt he became too pass-happy in the first half at Wisconsin, despite having a talented running back and a quarterback who is known for making big plays with his legs, not his arm.
At one point, Beck had Martinez throw 14 passes in 15 plays! In Nebraska's first four games, they passed an average of 22 times per game. Against Wisconsin, Martinez threw 17 passes in the first half alone. That is not what has made Nebraska football successful, and Beck put his quarterback in a position which did not play to his strengths.
In their last 20 games, Nebraska is 14-0 when rushing the ball for 200+ yards. That is a great statistic if you're a Husker fan, but what about the other six games? Beck must have forgotten that the Huskers are 0-6 when they rush for less than 200 yards.
Big plays on the ground are the main reason why Nebraska has been successful in its wins this season (i.e. Rex Burkhead's 45-yard TD run against Wyoming). Luckily for Tim Beck, the Buckeye offense has not shown the capability of scoring quickly and often like the Badgers could.
This should prompt Beck and Pelini to call plays that don't rely on Martinez to use his arm to win the game. In short, Nebraska likely will not be in a shootout with Ohio State and will go back to the ground and utilize Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead's strengths.
Big Play Ability
Across the board at every skill position, Nebraska has a player who can change a game or bust a play open for a huge gain.
Taylor Martinez, while a very average passer, is thought of as one of the best running quarterbacks in the country. His freshman season was littered with big plays on the ground, as he dashed his way for almost 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.
This season is no different, as he's busted touchdown runs of 43, 47, and 46 yards.
Behind him is junior running back Rex Burkhead. Despite not being known for his pass-catching abilities, Burkhead is a very capable runner who has had a few big runs himself, including a 52-yard run against Chattanooga and an impressive 45-yard touchdown run against Wyoming which capped-off a career day.
Two freshmen who made their impact immediately known and have become vital pieces to the Huskers' attack are Ameer Abdullah and Jamal Turner.
Abdullah, a freshman from Alabama, has made his impact most felt on special teams. Against Fresno State in the second week of the season, Abdullah returned a kick for 100 yards and ultimately sealed the game for Nebraska. He is third in the nation (first in the Big Ten) with 35 yards per kick return and third in the Big Ten with 12 yards per punt return.
The other impact freshman, Jamal Turner, is a converted wide recever who had a prolific high school career as a quarterback. With Taylor Martinez at the helm, Turner switched to receiver so he could see the field quicker.
He has not disappointed Huskers fans, and has made a couple of acrobatic catches this season en route to an impressive 17 yards per catch. If the Huskers can find any consistency in the passing game, expect Turner's numbers to soar.
On defense, the big three can change games in just one play. Dennard has the ability to shut off one side of the field, and is commonly mentioned in the same breath as former Nebraska star Prince Amukamara. Jared Crick, with his opposing size, can clog running lanes and get to the quarterback with ease. Last, but not least, Lavonte David is the anchor to the Huskers' defense, and has a never-ending motor.
If one or more of these athletes are able to break a run or two for scores, this weekend's game between Ohio State and Nebraska could be over quickly.
The Loss to Wisconsin a Possible Blessing in Disguise?
Given the implications of the game against Wisconsin, this is one of the largest backlashes Taylor Martinez has endured from the media and fans alike. From being criticized in class to having his girlfriend take the heat in place of him, Martinez has had enough and is eager to silence his critics.
Senior left tackle Yoshi Hardick told reporters that it was the "first time that [Hardick] has ever seen Martinez mad." Hardick went on to say, "Everybody loves Taylor. He's the leader of the team. He's the quarterback. We turn our back on him — it'd be pretty bad ... we can't let him feel like he's on an island by himself."
The tension between Bo Pelini and Taylor Martinez was well-publicized last season, but Coach Pelini is not about to let his quarterback take the fall. Pelini became agitated with reporters when more criticisms and questions came up about Martinez on Thursday.
The blessing in disguise?
Not only does Martinez have a chip on his shoulder, but it has to be reassuring for Martinez and the rest of the Huskers to know that no one in that locker room gives up on one another.
It's guaranteed that the Huskers feel a little fired-up and ready to silence all their critics, including some of their own fans. Given these developments, would it be surprising to see Nebraska win by two or three scores?