Five burning questions heading into Ohio State week

Robin Washut, Senior Writer
Husker Online

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1. What will Nebraska's mindset be following big game loss?

There were a lot of people who viewed Nebraska’s showdown against No. 9 Wisconsin on Saturday night as a potentially season-changing game in one way or another.

Either the Huskers would pull off an upset and emerge as legit contenders in the Big Ten West, or they’d lose and be left trying to salvage whatever was left of their 2017 season.

Well, after a 21-point defeat where they were manhandled down the stretch in the second half, will the players be able to bounce back in time to face yet another top-10 team in primetime this week vs. Ohio State?

Nebraska has generally been pretty good about getting back to business in practice following a disappointing loss, but in the wake of dropping a game that meant so much to the future of the season, will the recovery go as smoothly as usual?

2. Can the Huskers stay out of their own way?

After giving the ball away two more times against Wisconsin, Nebraska is now tied for the most turnovers in the Big Ten with 10 interceptions and two lost fumbles.

As if that weren’t bad enough, there’s another stat that will make Husker fans even sicker to their stomachs: with four pick-sixes, a punt return allowed for a touchdown, and a safety, the Huskers have now allowed 37 non-offensive points over just six games.

That total grew again on Saturday night when Tanner Lee’s pass to Devine Ozgibo was intercepted and taken to the house on the opening series, spoiling what could have been a sure scoring drive.

Nebraska ended up moving the ball into Wisconsin territory eight times on the night yet managed just 17 points, including a missed field goal and not including a lost fumble near midfield late in the game.

Against an Ohio State team that ranks second in the Big Ten with a +6 turnover margin on the year, will the Huskers be able to stay out of their own way long enough to pull off an upset?

3. Will NU keep riding Ozigbo?

For a guy whose face was on a milk carton for the first three weeks of the season, Ozigbo’s role in Nebraska’s offense sure has done a complete 180.

With 24 carries for a career-high 112 yards against Wisconsin, the junior running back has now posted three straight 100-yard rushing games, the first time a Husker has done that since Ameer Abdullah in 2014.

The difference on Saturday was that while the bulk of his production the past two weeks came in the fourth quarter to close out games, Ozigbo was the clear feature back all night vs. the Badgers. In fact, no other running back carried the ball at all in the loss.

After the game, head coach Mike Riley said junior Mikale Wilbon (ankle) could have played but the staff decided to hold him out for another week. With Wilbon presumably ready to roll this week, will NU go back to a one-two punch with him and Ozigbo?

Or will Nebraska decide to roll with their hot hand and let Ozigbo continue to carry the load on the ground?


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4. Can the offensive line keep it up?

For a group that looked so bad against the likes of Northern Illinois earlier this year, Nebraska’s offensive line actually played pretty well against one of the best defenses in college football in Wisconsin.

The offense definitely fizzled out in the second half, which was very much a concern, but the o-line paved the way to a pretty impressive first half with 313 total yards before halftime.

The most encouraging aspect was NU didn’t allow a sack on Lee against maybe the best pass rushing team in the Big Ten.

The challenge won’t get any easier this week, as Ohio State comes in tied for second in the conference with 17 sacks and boasts arguably the deepest and most talented defensive front sevens in all of college football.

Nebraska desperately needs an effort from its offensive line like what it showed in the first half vs. the Badgers, expect there can’t be another second-half let down this time around.

5. What will the secondary look like this week?

Nebraska got two big-time additions to its secondary last week with the returns of cornerback Chris Jones from a knee injury and safety Joshua Kalu from a hamstring.

Kalu started against Wisconsin and was excellent, registering a career-high 10 tackles and two pass breakups. Jones saw limited snaps in his first action of the season, but was a regular in NU’s redzone package.

The bad news was that NU ended up losing another defensive back to injury during the game when safety Antonio Reed was sidelined with a knee injury and did not return the rest of the night.

Riley said the initial diagnosis was just a knee bruise, but with Reed out redshirt freshman Marquel Dismuke saw extensive action.

Will Jones see his role continue to increase going forward and possibly rejoin the starting lineup this week? Will Reed be available to play vs. Ohio State?

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