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Nebraska Cornhuskers vs Ohio State Buckeyes: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

When: Sat. Nov. 5, 2016; 8:00 pm ET
Where: Columbus, OH; Ohio Stadium (104,944)
TV: ABC
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 3-1
Last Meeting: Ohio State won 63-38 (2012)
Line: Ohio State (-17)

Welcome to the latest game of the year in the Big Ten. It’s yet another matchup of two teams in the upper crust of the College Football Playoff discussions, and somewhat of an elimination game in that regard as well. Heck, Ohio State is even breaking out some alternate uniforms for this titanic struggle:

Nebraska was thought to be a paper tiger before taking a battle-tested Wisconsin team to overtime last week in Camp Randall. It was a loss, but one that raised the eyebrows of everyone throwing stones at the program for failing to notch a respectable showing.

Though those perceptions may have been doused to some degree, there’s still a lack of respect for the ‘Huskers as they travel to Columbus — evidenced by more than two touchdown line in favor of Ohio State. Nebraska would love nothing more than to impose a super wedgie to those expectations on Saturday.

For Ohio State, it’s been a season of perplexity. The team flew out of the gate with youth and vigor, making big plays all over the field early in Norman against Oklahoma, and at home against competition early on. But then, like a thief in the night, the Buckeyes’ offensive mojo seemed to go the way of the dinosaur.

J.T. Barrett has done everything to keep the offense humming, but despite all the talent in the universe, the ability to make big plays in the passing game has resembled a root canal more than a waltz through a cupcake forest. Penn State knocked Ohio State from the ranks of the unbeaten, and then Northwestern provided a scare on Halloween weekend to create a run on staples at your local grocery stores in the surrounding Columbus area.

It’s two teams with really big things still on the line, and two teams desperate to wash doubts and fears from the collective psyche of all stakeholders involved.

1 Burning Question: Will it be Ohio State or Nebraska that continues its march towards championship aspirations?

The sands in the hour-glass of the college football season are beginning to run out as the calendar flips to November. Though both teams have put themselves in position to seal the deal, only the winner of this game will emerge with those same goals and dreams without major doubts.

If Ohio State can beat Nebraska, it would appear to have a bit of a breather until the big showdown in Columbus with arch-rival Michigan. This is a huge hurdle the way Nebraska has been playing, and it must bring its A number one game to live to fight another day.

Ahhh, and Nebraska. The ‘Huskers were not expected to be here, but the emergence of a solid defense and the leadership and exploits of Tommy Armstrong have brought them to the brink of special things as well. Beat Ohio State, and most of the hard rowing is behind them. Lose and another team will suddenly have the inside track to Indy.

There couldn’t be much more on the line.

2 Key Stats

— 220.5: That’s the number of passing yards per game Ohio State is averaging. That’s okay for No. 8 ranked rushing team in the country, but to be a truly special team, that’s not going to cut it. The Buckeyes need more balance, meaning it needs to have someone emerge in the receiver room to keep defenses more honest than they’ve been in selling out on the run the last three weeks. The template has been set, and until the Buckeyes can take the top off the defense, they’ll have to bring their lunch pails to move the chains on a weekly basis.

— 225.6: Similarly, that’s the average passing yards per contest for Nebraska. Needless to say, both of these teams will need to crank it up a bit more in the passing game. We could throw out a branded but true stat that whomever wins the rushing battle will likely win the game, and that may be true. However, this can’t be a game where both teams give up on plays down the field, because those plays will open up some holes and lanes to run through and win that battle. This may be a game where both teams need to establish the pass first to open up chunk plays on the ground.

3 Key Players

–Noah Brown, Ohio State WR: Brown has made the spectacular play at times this year, but he’s also gone the way of the back of a milk carton at times as well. He doesn’t possess elite speed, but his ability to high-point the ball and come up with catches in traffic with a great set of hands can be a game changer. There hasn’t been much separation occurring with the OSU receivers lately, and maybe it’s time to let Brown fight for some shots down the field to make things easier for Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel running the ball.

–Jordan Westerkamp, WR Nebraska: Tit for tat. As long as we are talking about someone stepping up in the passing game for Ohio State, we might as well go to the other sideline as well. Ohio State gave up far too many explosive plays through the air to the Clayton Thorson to Austin Carr show last week. Westerkamp is cut out of the same cloth as Carr so the OSU secondary would be well-advised to tread lightly again. No. 1 is a great route-runner with exceptional hands who just always seems to be open and making big plays when healthy. He’ll need to be a key third-down weapon for the Cornhuskers Saturday for things to get downright corny in Columbus.

–Nick Bosa, DL Ohio State: Slowly but surely, Joey Bosa’s little brother is starting to flash in opposing offenses backfields at a more frequent rate. No. 97 has taken some time to recover from a knee injury his senior season of high school, but he’s becoming a force as they move him up and down the defensive line to try and generate pressure on the quarterback. He’s got all the tools to make life difficult on Tommy Armstrong by applying pressure. Armstrong has shown a penchant for questionable decisions when forced to get the ball out quickly, and Bosa might just be the tipping point in a game-changing moment on Saturday night.

4 Staff Predictions

Andy: Ohio State 45-17
Dave: Ohio State 31-26
Phil H.: Ohio State 27-21
Philip R-R.: Nebraska 28-24
Zach: Ohio State 31-17

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