Heading into last year’s matchup against the Ohio State Buckeyes, expectations weren’t exactly high for the 2-6 Huskers. After all, in the team’s previous three meetings, Ohio State out-scored Nebraska 181-55, including crushing blowout losses in 2016 and 2017.
But after the Huskers nearly upset the Buckeyes a year ago, narrowly falling 36-31, and with ESPN’s College GameDay coming to town this week, things are a little different this year.
“We went in there and played them well [last year],” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “Disappointed we didn’t win, but we played them well and we’ll look back [at the tape]. I don’t think there’s going to be anybody scared or thinking we can’t win.”
Despite the big-game hype around campus, Walters said the team has been preparing normally and is helped by having many of the same players who featured against Ohio State last year.
“The preparation doesn’t change whether you’re playing Bethune-Cookman or you’re playing Ohio State,” he said.
For Walters, the team’s performance in practice has been good this week, especially as the offense tries to put last week’s four-turnover performance behind them. The Huskers have been working on ball security drills all week, and junior running back Dedrick Mills has continued to carry a football around campus in an effort to make up for his fumble last week.
“You play a top-five team in the country, you don’t really have a large margin for error,” Walters said. “You can’t turn the ball over, you can’t have a whole lot of penalties… and our guys understand that and the preparation this week gives us encouragement as coaches that we’re going to go out and do it.”
The margin for error shrinks even further when considering the Huskers will be going up against the nation’s second-ranked team in total defense. Through four games, the Buckeyes have given up just nine points per game and have a roster with “five or six first, second-round picks,” as Walters put it.
The most dangerous Buckeye up front is junior defensive end Chase Young, a presumptive top-five pick in next year’s NFL Draft. He has seven sacks so far this year, but the Huskers did limit Young to just two tackles and held him sackless last year. In combination with players such as senior safety Jordan Fuller and senior linebacker Malik Harrison, the Buckeyes are a tough defense to crack.
“They’ve got some creatures up front with size, with strength and they’re athletic so they can rush the passer and they can create havoc in the run game,” Walters said. “...Across the board, they’re an excellent defense and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
A positive for Nebraska in this tough matchup is that sophomore running back Maurice Washington will be ready to play Saturday, per running backs coach Ryan Held. Washington missed the second half of last week’s game due to injury, and in his absence, freshman wideout Wan’Dale Robinson stepped up to power the rushing game.
With Washington back in the mix and Mills also recovered after a physical game, Robinson won’t be expected to play as many snaps at running back, although his versatile nature has been key to Nebraska’s offensive success this year.
“We’re going to find ways to get him the ball and create matchups where he can be successful,” Walters said. “It’s a luxury to have guys who can play multiple positions, it adds depth and if we need him at receiver more, he can play receiver.”