Drake Keeler, senior sports editor: Ohio State 41, Nebraska 17
To put it simply, it’s not looking good.
Many, including myself, thought Nebraska might have at least a fighting chance to hang with the Buckeyes in a primetime game at home last year. That possibility evaporated almost immediately, as the Huskers were helpless in the first half. 2019 Ohio State was a significantly better team than the 2018 Buckeyes, a team Nebraska came close to beating, and it showed from the start.
That being said, I don’t believe this time around will bring a worse result. Mostly because, well, it couldn’t get any worse. Ohio State took a 38-0 lead into halftime, and then-sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez had completed just as many passes to Buckeye cornerback Jeffrey Okudah in the first two quarters as he had to his own team. Surely, Martinez will be able to throw for more than 10 yards in the first half this time around.
But it’s also worth noting that the Huskers match up a little bit better this year, at least offensively. Okudah and defensive end Chase Young, who also terrorized Nebraska’s offensive line despite a relatively pedestrian statline, both moved on to the NFL. While the Buckeyes still have plenty of defensive talent, the lack of those two dominating presences will make some difference.
The biggest reason the Huskers won’t be able to hang around or come up with the upset is the matchup with Ohio State’s offense. The Blackshirts lost five major contributors from last season, including three starting defensive linemen, second-team All-Big Ten cornerback Lamar Jackson and linebacker Mohamed Barry. Meanwhile, Ohio State is loaded with offensive weapons, and seems to be set up to overwhelm Nebraska’s defense once again.
Regardless of whether or not Nebraska’s offense is disastrous this time around, Ohio State’s offense will give the Buckeyes a big enough cushion to cruise to their sixth consecutive win over the Huskers.
Landon Wirt, assistant sports editor: Ohio State 45, Nebraska 20
Nebraska has to score more than seven points this year, right?
This prediction isn’t so much about Ohio State but more about what I’ve seen across the board as the other College Football Playoff contenders opened their seasons.
No. 1 Clemson used conference foe Wake Forest as a tune-up game in the Tigers’ season-opener, building a 37-3 lead in the third quarter before the Demon Deacons scored 10 points in garbage time to make it a 37-13 final. No. 2 Alabama had a similar game plan against Missouri in its season opener, building a 35-3 third-quarter lead before the Tigers made the scoreline more respectable late in the game as the Crimson Tide rolled 38-19.
I’m not saying Saturday’s game will be anything like those, as head coach Scott Frost’s team is far more talented than Missouri and Wake Forest. However, there is some incentive on Ohio State’s end to come out firing, dominate the opening stages of the game and take its foot off the gas in the second half — especially with a matchup at No. 8 Penn State looming next weekend.
If Nebraska wants to throw Ohio State for a loop early on Saturday and get the Buckeyes out of their comfort zone, Martinez has to take care of the football. Martinez has four turnovers in two career games against Ohio State, three of which were first-half interceptions in last year’s 48-7 beatdown. When Nebraska hung with Ohio State in 2018, Martinez turned the ball over once.
Additionally, Nebraska has to slow down the Buckeyes’ dynamic rushing attack. Ohio State boasts two quality running backs in graduate transfer Trey Sermon and sophomore Master Teague III, as well as the expertise of dual-threat junior quarterback Justin Fields. The Buckeyes ran for an astounding 368 yards in Lincoln last season. That number needs to be more than halved if the Huskers want to have a chance on Saturday.
Ultimately, I think that Nebraska will be able to hang with Ohio State for at least two quarters. But at the end of the day, the Buckeyes are bigger, faster, stronger and more talented than Nebraska. Expect Ohio State to pull away in the second half to close the Huskers out.
Jason Han, assistant sports editor: Ohio State 49, Nebraska 10
In football, two things are far more predicated on team coordination than individual flair. Those two things are the secondary and the offensive line. It’s generally accepted that after a long layoff with no game-time, these two things will be worse overall. And therefore the game will hinge on these axes.
Unfortunately, the sheer quality of Fields and his wide receiving core basically means that Nebraska’s secondary will be torn to shreds. Any mishap from the Ohio State offensive line caused by rust can probably be circumvented by Fields’ dual-threat capabilities. This, perhaps, wouldn’t be possible if Nebraska possessed an effective edge-rushing core, but on that end, the Huskers are lacking.
Nebraska’s offense, on the other hand, has to play against the likes of the sophomore defensive end Zach Harrison. His pressure will help to collapse the Nebraska offensive line, force Martinez to engage in risky gambits, the whole gamut. If one understands all these systems to be supporting one another, Nebraska’s weakness in a few key areas will doom the whole lot.
The only mitigating factor to this scoreline, in my opinion, is whether or not Ohio State calls off the onslaught early into the third quarter or the fourth. Yet I stand to be corrected, of course.