Thursday notebook: Blackshirts readying for biggest test yet vs. Ohio State

Robin Washut, Senior Writer
Husker Online
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A week after running out of steam down the stretch against Wisconsin’s power running attack, Nebraska’s defense is now preparing itself for a much different and more lethal challenge against No. 9 Ohio State.

The Buckeyes will come to Lincoln on Saturday night boasting by far the best offense in the Big Ten, as they lead the conference in scoring (45.8 points per game), total offense (568.0 yards per game), and rushing offense (245.8 ypg), and they rank second in passing offense (322.2 ypg).

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco gushed praise for Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s scheme, calling it not “a spread offense”, but “the spread offense.”

“With as long as Coach Meyer has been doing it, and since Bowling Green, it has been his offense,” Diaco said. “He was one of the founding fathers of spread before it was called the spread offense. I referred to it in the write up to our players not as ‘a spread offense’, but ‘the spread offense’, and I did it purposefully.

“Coach Meyer’s offense, from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida to Ohio State, has made people famous. It’s made players famous. It’s made coaches famous. His coaching tree is all around the country, they’re all basically running that offense and it’s pretty awesome.”

While Meyer is the mastermind behind OSU’s potent system, it’s senior quarterback J.T. Barrett who is the director on the field.

Barrett does a lot of everything for the Buckeyes, as he is completing nearly 64 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,513 yards and 16 touchdowns with only one interception on the year.

The Wichita Falls, Texas, native ranks third nationally in passing touchdowns and 10th in passing efficiency, and he’s also Ohio State’s second-leading rusher with 311 yards.

As if that weren’t enough for Nebraska to worry about, Barrett has connected with 15 different receivers over the past four games, 10 of which have caught at least one touchdown pass.

“They have a senior quarterback who just runs their offense with great efficiency,” Diaco said. “He feels he is an extension of the coaching staff out there, and they feel that way about him. He protects the ball, protects the plays and protects the edges.

“He just does a really nice job with working that offense. You have to defend all 53 and a third (yards). They create a lot of space, get the ball quickly to them and those guys do their thing.”

In NU’s last meeting with the Buckeyes, Barrett completed 26-of-38 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns while OSU rushed for 240 more yards and two scores as a team en route to handing the Huskers by far their worst loss ever under head coach Mike Riley, 62-3.

Coming off a frustrating loss to Wisconsin last week where a 17-17 game ended up a 21-point blowout, Nebraska knows there is no time to mope over its missed opportunity, especially with their biggest test of the year next up on the schedule.

“The message was ‘We don’t have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves,’” linebacker Luke Gifford said. “If you sit around and feel sorry for you, (Ohio State) will hang 60 on you. We really just moved on and took what we could from the game and ready to put in the work this week.”

- Robin Washut

Huskers see no weaknesses in Buckeye defense

Nebraska’s offense faced its most daunting challenge of the season to date against Wisconsin’s aggressive and physical defense, and the Huskers know the level of difficulty is only going to increase on Saturday night.

Along with its explosive offense, Ohio State also features one of the stingiest defenses in all of college football.

The Buckeyes rank in the top-20 nationally in scoring defense (10th, 15.7 ppg), total defense (14th, 290.7 ypg), and pass defense (17th, 170.2 ypg). They also come in at No. 29 in rushing defense, giving up just 120.5 ypg and 2.94 yards per rush.

“They’re very good,” NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “They’re exceptionally fast up front, strong and fast. They’ve got athleticism all across the board.”

The focal point of OSU’s defense is the front four, which is loaded with future NFL talent and might be the deepest group in the country this season. Through six games the Buckeyes rank second nationally in tackles for loss per game (9.5) and 19th in sacks per game (2.8).

Leading the way is sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa, brother of former Ohio State star and No. 3 overall pick by the Los Angeles Chargers Nick Bosa, who has posted a team-high four sacks and tops the Big Ten with 10 tackles for loss on the year.

"The Bosa kid looks like his brother, and his brother's tearing up the NFL," Langsdorf said.

Because of how good the defensive line has been, the Buckeyes have thrived in pass coverage by being able to drop seven and only rush four more often than not.

As a result, Ohio State has only allowed six passing touchdowns all season to go along with six interceptions and 30 pass breakups.

"I think their safeties are very, very good,” Langsdorf said. “They’ve got good cover guys that play a lot of press. I thought they did a tough job against us last year. They really locked us up, and they were able to create some pressure without having to pressure too much, bring extra guys, so that’s always a concern in protection.”

- Robin Washut

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Diaco, Meyer to face off again on Saturday night

For as much respect as Diaco has for Meyer and Ohio State’s offense, the feeling definitely seems to be mutual.

During his weekly press conference on Wednesday, Meyer praised what he called “a unique style of defense” that he’s seen from watching film of Diaco’s first six games with the Huskers.

“They’re NFL,” Meyer said when asked what makes NU’s defense unique. “They’re pure two-gap, drop-eight as their Day One install. When they first installed it, you see it on videotape. It’s very hard.

“It’s the type of defense that you’re going to have to work for everything. You’re not going to have many shots downfield on them the way they play. They’re very sound in what they do. Their secondary, they keep everything in front of them and they rally up and run to the ball very, very well. They’re very well coached.”

Meyer and Diaco have only faced off one time since Diaco became a full-time defensive coordinator in 2009, when his Cincinnati Bearcats met Meyer’s Florida Gators in the 2010 Sugar Bowl.

Meyer definitely had the upper hand that night, as quarterback Tim Tebow set BCS bowl game records with 482 passing yards and 533 total yards of offense in a 51-24 victory.

Diaco also coached against Meyer in 2002 while he was the linebackers coach at Eastern Michigan and Meyer was the head coach at Bowling Green. Diaco lost that meeting, too, in a 63-21 drubbing.

“I’ve unfortunately had a chance to see it many times,” Diaco said of Meyer’s spread offense.

- Robin Washut

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Nate Clouse

Quick hits

***Riley said running back Tre Bryant (knee) suited up and tried to practice again on Thursday, but was unable to finish the session. Bryant has been ruled again for Saturday night’s game vs. Ohio State.

***Riley said they would continue to evaluate Bryant on through the bye week and see if he can get back to action during Purdue week.

***The good news is that running back Mikale Wilbon (ankle) fully practiced again on Thursday and will play vs. the Buckeyes. Riley said Wilbon will rotate in with Devine Ozgibo.

***Linebacker Dedrick Young will play but will wear a large club/cast on his right hand after injuring it against Wisconsin.

***Riley said right tackle David Knevel re-injured his problematic ankle and is questionable for Saturday night. Riley said they’ll know more on Knevel’s status on Friday.

***With Knevel questionable, Riley said true freshman Brenden Jaimes will get the start again vs. Ohio State.

***Riley said safety Antonio Reed (knee) is out vs. the Buckeyes, and they “will see tomorrow” on the status of fellow safety Aaron Williams (neck). Williams did not practice on Thursday.

***Riley said receiver Bryan Reimers sprained his ankle this week and would be out for Ohio State.

***Riley said cornerback Chris Jones (knee) would continue to see more playing time going forward after making his season debut last week vs. Wisconsin.

***Riley said Cole Conrad has gone back to a “Mr. Versatile” role on the offensive line. Riley said Conrad was probably the team’s top backup at center and guard right now.

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