Friday, October 7, 2011

GAME PREVIEW: STRUGGLING OSU HEADS TO LINCOLN SATURDAY

LINCOLN, Neb. — Saying the Ohio State football team is struggling right now would be like pointing out that Carrie Underwood is cute.

Both are major understatements that deserved to be followed with a big, fat, DUH!

The Buckeyes performance against Michigan State at home last Saturday was an abomination. The offensive line was porous, the play-calling was predictable and unimaginative, and the player management once again was indecisive.

I apologize for offering more of those 'DUH!' examples, but unfortunately for the Buckeyes, that's the reality — and there's really no way to sugarcoat it.

OSU interim head coach Luke Fickell understands there are problems that need to be addressed, and is not into making any excuses for the Buckeyes' recent shortcomings.

"We had a motto two years ago on defense: No names, no blame, no worries," Fickell said. "It's kind of the same thing, we have kind of just said, you play (as a team), you win as a team and you lose as a team. There's always areas where we could have found things that we could have done better. We need to make sure guys don't have excuses in their head. We are not going to tolerate it, and that's it.

"You stay together, you play together, you win together, you lose together," Fickell continued. "It starts with us. It starts with us coaches."

The Buckeyes must find a way to get it together on offense. They must find a way for true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller to have success, because the current offensive philosophy isn't cutting it, and if they think last week's 10-7 loss to Michigan State was tough, a trip to Nebraska on Saturday night could make the defeat by the Spartans feel like running through a field of daffodils.

The 14th-ranked Cornhuskers — who will be hosting its first-ever Big Ten game Saturday night — are coming off a tough loss at Wisconsin last week, where they were manhandled 48-14.

They will certainly be looking to take their frustrations out on the Buckeyes in front of the rowdy home folks Saturday night in Lincoln. After watching the Spartans blitz OSU at will last week — tallying nine sacks in the win — you can bet the farm that Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini will be bringing the 'Black Shirts' after Miller early and often.

"They are physical," Fickell said of Nebraska. "It definitely starts up front for them. They are going to get on you. Same type of thing (as Michigan State): They are going to be on you, pressed up in a lot of coverage stuff and they are going to be physical up front.

"Coach Pelini is not going to be a huge, huge scheme type of guy. When he comes down to it, it's going to be about being physical, being tough, playing with great technique and making people beat you with something different or something new."

'Something different or something new' seems like a foreign concept to the Ohio State coaching staff. Through five games this season, the offense has yet to evolve with the young talent it possesses, plugging along with no signs of adjustment. So, in order for the Buckeyes to achieve any successful results in Lincoln, 'different and new' needs to be the philosophy.

Defensively for Ohio State, the game-plan will be simple: contain Huskers sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound dual-threat signal caller has been solid this season guiding a Huskers' offense that's averaged 37.6 points per contest. Martinez has racked up 1,305 total yards and 12 touchdowns through the first five weeks, including 823 on the ground with eight scores.

Martinez is sort of like a poor man's Denard Robinson.

"(Martinez) presents a lot of challenges," Fickell said. "Again, it starts up front, that's what they do a very good job of. Obviously he can run, and I'm not sure there's anybody on their team that's faster than him. But you know what you've got to do ...

"Martinez is going to be a very, very tough guy to catch if you let him get going."

Bottom Line

Again, the outcome of this contest is going to be determined by how 'different and new' the Buckeyes offense will look.

Defensively, the Buckeyes have been formidable all season, so I don't see Nebraska having a whole lot of success lighting up the scoreboard — but the OSU offense has to score more than the seven points they put on the Spartans last week in garbage time, or the two field goals they mustered at Miami (Fla.) last month.

Some of the Buckeye players said this week that they have been doing some "new things" in practice that they will showcase come Saturday night.

Forgive me if I seem skeptical.

Prediction: Nebraska 21-12