Photo by Nebraska Communications

Saturday's match-up: Nebraska at Ohio State

By Brian Rosenthal

Nebraska (2-6, 1-4 Big Ten) at No. 8 Ohio State (7-1, 4-1)

Saturday, 11 a.m., Ohio Stadium

TV: FOX (Joe Davis, Brady Quinn, Bruce Feldman)

WHAT’S AT STAKE: Nebraska has won two straight games as it resumes Big Ten Conference play at No. 8 Ohio State, which is coming off a bye week, that following a blowout, upset loss at Purdue. The Huskers are far more confident, head coach Scott Frost says, than when they began conference play at Michigan in September. Many feel this game against one of the league’s best teams will be a solid barometer to see how far Nebraska has come since that 56-10 loss in Ann Arbor. Ohio State, meanwhile, can ill afford another loss if it hopes to repeat as East Division champions. “They’re going to be ready to roll,” Nebraska senior linebacker Luke Gifford said. “They’re foaming at the mouth for another game. We’re going to get their best shot and we’re going to go in and give them ours.” Nebraska must win to keep its bowl hopes alive.

KEY STATISTIC: Nebraska senior running back Devine Ozigbo has carried the ball 67 times over the past five games for a total of 620 yards. He’s been stopped for a loss on just one of those carries. Ozigbo is averaging 124 yards per game and 9.3 yards per carry in starting Nebraska’s last five games.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins has thrown for more than 400 yards in three straight games. His 30 touchdown passes for the season rank No. 1 nationally, and his 2,801 passing yards ranks third. … Receiver K.J. Hill is coming off back-to-back 100-yard receiving games and has 656 yards for the season for the Buckeyes. … Nebraska sophomore receiver JD Spielman has 53 catches, making him just the third Husker with back-to-back 50-catch seasons. He caught 11 passes against Ohio State last season for a then school-record 200 yards. … Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez is one of only four FBS quarterbacks currently averaging 225 passing yards and 50 rushing yards. In Nebraska’s last two road games, he’s 49-of-77 passing for 635 yards.

WHEN NEBRASKA HAS THE BALL: This isn’t the strongest Ohio State defense the Huskers will have faced in recent years. Even before Purdue gashed the Buckeyes for 539 total yards, Ohio State had shown signs of being vulnerable on that side of the football. Indiana, for example, threw for 322 yards against the Buckeyes. Whether Adrian Martinez can find a similar groove will depend on how well Nebraska can fend off Ohio State defenders and keep the freshman quarterback upright and protected. That part has improved considerably since the Michigan game. “We’ve gotten better around him, and that’s helped him to improve his play,” coach Scott Frost said. “As well as he’s been playing, a lot of the credit for that goes to better play up front, our receivers, running backs are all upping their game.” Three Buckeyes have 30 or more tackles, led by junior safety Jordan Fuller, the team’s leading tackler with 44 stops and four pass breakups. Up front, the Buckeyes are athletic, and the linebackers play downhill. On third down, the Buckeyes will likely bring in an extra defensive end to replace an interior lineman to create a better speed rush. “They’re athletic,” Walters said. “They’re big. They’ve got speed. They’re very similar to Michigan in terms of their coverage. They’re going to get up in your face. They’re going to press you on the outside. They’re not going to give you anything easy. They didn’t play well against Purdue, but that’s the team were going to play, so we’ve got to be ready for a good defense.” Defensive lineman Nick Bosa is out for the season with injury, but still, this Ohio State front will be the best the Huskers have seen since that Michigan game.

WHEN OHIO STATE HAS THE BALL: Ohio State can be explosive. The Buckeyes rank No. 3 nationally in scrimmage plays over 10 yards, and No. 13 with 25 plays of 30 yards or more. They have 11 plays of 40 yards or more. However, the Buckeyes have recently been sub-par in running the football. Over their last three games, the Buckeyes have carried 105 times for a mere 322 yards, or 3.1 per rush. That compares to 782 yards and 5.8 yards per carry through their first three games. What’s been the difference? “It’s hard to say,” Nebraska linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said. “I do know that I saw what they did in the first three games of the year, and they looked like a different team. I’m anticipating they’re going to be much more similar to when they played Oregon State and TCU early in the season.” Meanwhile, quarterback Dwayne Haskins has thrown eight consecutive 20-completion games, a school record. He’s coming a school-record 73 attempts and school-record 49 completions in a loss to Purdue. As a team, Ohio State has the nation’s No. 1 completion percentage and is second in passing yards per game.  “Throwing the ball, he’s as good as we’ve played this year,” Ruud said. “He’s probably a little bit different from a traditional Urban Meyer quarterback, where in the past they’ve been much more run-oriented, with QB-designed runs. With (Haskins), he will pull the ball, but it’s not quite the QB-designed run game that they’ve been the past.” Haskins’ top two targets have been Parris Campbell (52 receptions, 600 yards) and K.J. Hill (49 receptions, 656 yards). On the ground, J.K. Dobbins has rushed for a team-best 521 yards, while averaging 4.3 per carry.

NEBRASKA WINS IF ... The Huskers weather an expected early surge from an angry Ohio State team, win the turnover battle, continue their trend of limiting penalties and … well, a few more things might have to happen, too. But those are the biggest keys to Nebraska pulling its first upset of the season. Most critical may be beginning the game strong. “I foresee their team coming out and playing with their hair on fire right at the beginning,” coach Scott Frost said. “We need to be able to withstand that initial surge and play well at the beginning.” Overall, Nebraska players say this can be a “measuring stick” game, to see how far the Husker have come since playing the other top contender in the East Division, Michigan, on the road. “We’ll also see who’s going to really show up when the lights turn on,” cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said. “I have no doubt that every person in our locker room today is ready to go out there and ready to play.”

BY THE NUMBERS

0: Losses by Ohio State, under Urban Meyer, following a loss. The Buckeyes have lost five regular-season games under Meyer, and rebounded with a victory each time, by an average margin of 35 points.

450: Minimum yards of offense Nebraska has accumulated in each of its last five games. The last time the Huskers had five straight games with more than 450 yards was a five-game stretch in the middle of the 2001 season.

4: Games Nebraska has produced more than 500 yards of total offense this season. The Huskers haven’t had five such games in a season since 2000.

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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