The Nebraska Cornhuskers obviously didn’t look too sharp during the 48-17 beating they took from the Wisconsin Badgers last week. This week, though, they’ll aim to right a leaky, wayward ship against an Ohio State Buckeyes team with more problems than active players, and not many viable solutions.
About five minutes into the second quarter of the Wisconsin game, everything fell apart for the Huskers. Quarterback Taylor Martinez began launching one interception after another. Ignoring running back Rex Burkhead finally caught up with the offense. The defense couldn’t stop the pass or run. And not even Ameer Abdullah putting the team in prime return territory or Jamal Turner putting together a surprisingly solid effort could salvage that miserable performance.
So how does Nebraska bounce back?
Look, Martinez won’t magically turn into Russell Wilson in a week’s time. The offensive line won’t suddenly be filled with All-Americans. Everyone in the secondary not named Alfonzo Dennard won’t miraculously learn how to cover receivers.
All of that being said, there are certain tweaks that need to, and can be made. And if Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has taught us anything over the last few years it’s that if anyone can emphasize the importance of making necessary adjustments – it’s him.
Here are three things that the Huskers have to do against the Buckeyes this Saturday:
Let Ohio State be Ohio State. Nebraska had nine penalties last weekend against Wisconsin – something that absolutely cannot happen against this week. The Buckeyes are getting to be notorious this season for making boneheaded plays, and one of the ways in which that manifests itself is in penalties. Let them make the penalties, you take the yardage.
Against the Michigan State Spartans the Buckeyes’ offensive line had a myriad of false starts, holding and illegal blocking penalties. At home. On the road in front of the rowdy Huskers’ record-breaking crowd, you can only imagine how ineffective they’ll be.
Mind you, this is an offense in Ohio State that finished with 178 yards for the outing, 62 of which came on the last drive of the game. They converted on a paltry 4-of-16 third down attempts, had 35 cumulative rushing yards and left quarterback Braxton Miller wide open and ripe for the picking for most of the outing.
The opening is there.
To be fair, though, through five games, Nebraska ranks 73rd in the country in scoring defense and 17th in total touchdowns. On top of that, they’re giving up an average of about 224 yards through the air and 377 total yards per game. It’s hard to make the case that they’ll stifle anyone, really.
Still, if there’s one offense that this Husker defense can dominate – this would seemingly be it.
Nebraska must hold on to the ball. There are two primary ways to lose the ball to opposing teams -- interceptions and fumbles -- and the Huskers are extremely familiar with both of them. Against the Badgers, Martinez threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball once before ultimately getting it back.
That can’t happen again.
Last weekend against Michigan State, Ohio State forced two interceptions and had one recovered fumble. They found a way to come down hard the Spartans and there’s no reason to think that they won’t find a way to at least irritate, at most completely disrupt Martinez’s game.
The best way to prevent against all of that happening, though, is by giving the ball to Burkhead and letting him do what he does. Prior to last week’s calamity, Burkhead was coming off back-to-back 100+ yard outings and was beginning to look like a real force to be reckoned with. He opens the field up for the passing game, cuts down on Martinez Mistakes, and he’s perfectly built for the rough-and-tumble way in which you win Big Ten outings.
Let the past be the past. Look, the Huskers got absolutely whipped by the Badgers last week. Fine. But that’s in the past, and there’s nothing that can be done to change that fact now. What can be changed is the course of the 2011 season, and the only way that Nebraska can turn things around is by righting the ship and making a statement against an Ohio State squad that is off its game this year.
Yes, Martinez is getting harassed at school for his bad play. Yes, the offensive and defensive coordinators are getting a lot of blame for the squad’s problems. Yes, Pelini is shouldering the criticism and taking it all on himself, as usual.
But you’re only down until you’re up again – and there’s no better time for the Huskers to get up than this weekend against the Buckeyes.
Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, 8 p.m. eastern time.