This weekend, Nebraska will face its toughest opponent all year. With the national spotlight on the Huskers this week, this will likely also be the toughest game Nebraska plays in the regular season.
Nebraska may appear overmatched on paper, but there is a lot to look forward to in this matchup. Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game.
An atmosphere like no other
Nebraska football already brings one of the best gameday atmospheres in the nation. Add a top-five ranked opponent, a primetime kickoff and ESPN’s College GameDay to the mix, and that atmosphere becomes even more electric.
Nebraska fans broke the College GameDay attendance record in 2001, and buzz has started to rise about Lincoln breaking it again. The current record is around 18,000, set by Missouri in 2010.
A Facebook event titled “College Gameday Attendance Record!” lists 2.8k people as either going or interested at the time of writing. However, more are likely to show up Saturday morning.
While there isn’t much verifiable information out there about actual attendances at every College GameDay, it’s essentially a guarantee that thousands of Husker fans will show up early for the show.
The Ohio State run game
Looking past the outside attention, the Huskers will face a tall task on the field. The Buckeyes are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, with one of the biggest standouts being sophomore quarterback Justin Fields.
Despite Fields’ talent, the Blackshirts shouldn’t overlook junior running back J.K. Dobbins and the Buckeyes’ rushing attack. Dobbins currently leads the Big Ten in rushing yards with 477 and in 2018, he tore up the Huskers for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
Nebraska gave up its first 100-yard rushing game this year to Illinois senior running back Reggie Corbin last week. This week, it will face an even more dangerous back, so limiting the run will be essential to the success of the team.
The Buckeyes also added two more weapons this offseason who are major rushing threats. Fields transferred to Ohio State this year after spending his freshman year at Georgia. Fields is more mobile than Dwayne Haskins Jr. was for the Buckeyes last year and has six rushing touchdowns so far this year.
Redshirt freshman running back Master Teague III has also shown how dangerous he can be, even while playing behind Dobbins. Teague has 249 yards and a touchdown so far this year, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
The Blackshirts have been strong when it comes to stopping the run thus far, but Dobbins will likely be the best back Nebraska will face all year besides Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.
Taking advantage of turnover chances
One thing the Nebraska defense prides itself on so far this year is forcing turnovers. Through four games, the Huskers have forced 10 turnovers. That mark is tied with Illinois for the most in the conference and tied for fifth-most turnovers forced in the country.
However, Ohio State will be a tougher challenge when it comes to forcing turnovers. The Buckeyes have lost four turnovers all year, all of those being fumbles, as Fields has yet to throw an interception this year. Nebraska will have to work harder than usual to get Ohio State to give the ball away.
Even if those opportunities do arise, the Huskers have to be able to take advantage. Last year, Nebraska forced three turnovers against Ohio State. However, it could have had more. The Buckeyes fumbled six times, but only lost two. If the Blackshirts could have recovered a few more of those, Nebraska may have been able to come out on top.
Against an Ohio State offense that doesn’t turn the ball over often, the Blackshirts can’t afford to let any turnover opportunities slip through their hands if they want a chance at pulling the upset.