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’Huskers to invade the ’Shoe

October 5, 2012
By SETH STASKEY - Buckeye Blitz ( , Times Leader

You'll have to excuse Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes if they took a little extra time to enjoy their victory at Michigan State last Saturday.

Actually, it wasn't just the victory because the Buckeyes have had the Spartans number over the course of the series' history.

It was the maturation process that the Buckeyes had been looking for and Meyer finally saw right before his eyes last Saturday in East Lansing.

"We took a major stride in coming together as an outfit," Meyer said. "We eliminated a lot of the bystanders, and it was just our core group of players who went up there and found a way to win."

The 17-16 victory certainly wasn't without its fair share of tense moments, including much more than the one-point verdict in which OSU had to basically kill four minutes off the clock to finish off the Spartans.

"I don't want to call it legendary, but that (drive) is why we do what we do," Meyer said. "I can't speak for every coach or player, but at that point when you force them to punt and look at the clock and there are four-and-a-half miutes left. Then to hear what I hear and saw what I saw, that's what it's all about."

During the first drive of the game, which Ohio State cashed in for a touchdown, Braxton Miller was injured on a play on the sideline. Later in the game, Miller came up with lame with what appeared to be a knee injury, but he was cleared for return and is ready to go again this week.

The injury news wasn't as good on Jordan Hall, who left hurt as well. He returned for a play, made a reception and immediately went to the ground. He didn't return after that and Meyer doesn't expect him to be available this week because of a partial tear of his PCL.

On the positive side, outside of one possession, the defense hung in extremely well and much better than it has all season. Michigan State's vaunted running game and talented tailback Le'Veon Bell were bottled up to a tune of 37 yards rushing.

"I feel great about our defense," Meyer said. "There's that one awful play that I remember, too, but I loved the energy of our defense and I loved the fact that we played tighter at the line of scrimmage and put pressure on the corners."

So, the Buckeyes are now 5-0, up to No. 12 in the Associated Press Poll and are coming home for their first night game of the season against No. 21 ranked Nebraska, which is coming off a big win against Wisconsin.

With an entire day of tailgating, pre-gaming and getting ready, Meyer believes the 105,000-plus, who will shoehorn their way into the 'Shoe Saturday night could provide the best atmosphere in years.

"(Athletic Director) Gene Smith will buy them a game ball if we find a way to win this one," Meyer joked. "We probably can't do that, but we do appreciate the fans and we're getting better (as a team). I think they're going to enjoy watching their home team come back home and play hard for them."

The Buckeyes and Cornhuskers are meeting for the fourth time in their histories. The Buckeyes won the first two meetings, but watched the Huskers score the final 21 points last season for a 34-27 victory.

A lot has changed in the last year and it starts with the hiring of Meyer, who will be squaring off with former OSU Buckeye Bo Pelini, who is a Cardinal Mooney graduate, and played for Earle Bruce and John Cooper during his collegiate days in Columbus.

"I have pride in where I went to school and my career there," Pelini said during his weekly news conference. "That has nothing to do with Saturday. It really doesn't many any difference what happened from 1986-1990. That's a different time in my life."

Ironically, when Pelini arrived at OSU, Meyer was on the staff as a graduate assistant.

"I have a really good relationship with Bo," Meyer said. "We're both northeast Ohio guys. I had a lot of respect for him as a player. I got along with him great. We've coached against each other a couple of times when he was at LSU (as defensive coordinator) and I was at Florida. He's a very good coach."

After the two spend some time together on the field during pregame, it'll be an all-out battle between two highly competitive mentors.

"He's a really good football coach, but neither one of us is playing," Pelini said. "It's our football teams going against each other and it'll be a great challenge for us."

Both teams' challenges come in the form of slowing down the other's quarterback.

Miller is the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes. Miller has ran for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. He's also improving almost daily in the passing game. He's completing 63 percent of passes and has 933 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Huber Heights Wayne graduate did turn the ball over three times last week, which Meyer addressed.

"I love (Braxton) to death, but I told he has to take care of the ball and keep going," Meyer proclaimed. "He's one tough football player and a he's a competitor. He's far from perfect, but so are we. He's getting so much better than he's been."

Carlos Hyde, who returned to the lineup after a minor knee injury, has ran for 218 yards and a score. With Hall expected to be on the shelf this week, the Buckeyes will turn to Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn to take on bigger roles.

"It's time to go and time to roll," Meyer said. "You can only watch for so long. At some point, you have to go play the game. They've done pretty good."

The wide receivers have been a pleasant surprise thus far from what Meyer originally thought was going to be a major downfall.

Corey "Philly" Brown is the team's leading receiver with 32 catches for 317 yards and a score. Massillon Washington product Devin Smith has made 19 receptions for 351 yards. Jake Stoneburner and Evan Spencer are also solid options.

Brown made 12 receptions last week against Sparty, but his yards per catch is still under 10.

"He's allowed to make a guy miss once in a while," Meyer smiled. "Our spread is we're going to attack you vertical and horizontal, so our horiztontal guy has to be able to shake loose for a couple of those."

The biggest surprise maybe the last couple of weeks has been the play of the offensive line. Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsly, Marcus Hall and converted tight end Reid Fragel were named the Buckeyes' offensive players of the game last week.

"I am very proud of their effort and what they did," Meyer said. "It's great to have an offensive line grade out as your player of the game because you usually win that ballgame."

Pelini, who is a defensive minded coach after working under Les Miles as defensive coordinator at LSU on a national championship squad, has a defense that's allowing 20 points a game.

"I think there are a lot of similarities from when (Urban Meyer) was at Florida," Pelini said. "They have a different style of runner at quarterback, so we'll see some different plays. There are a lof of similarities there, too. He had success at Florida with it, so why wouldn't he have success at Ohio State? It makes sense."

On the other side of the ball, the Cornhuskers offense has scored plenty of points this season, averaging 44.8 points. Those numbers are a big inflated by the fact that they hung 73 on Idaho State.

"Nebraska has a dynamic quarterback," Meyer said. "I flipped (on the tape) and saw him bust a 92 yarder. They're very good on defense, using a much different defense than we've faced all year."

The Nebraska offense is led by Taylor Martinez. Similarly to Miller, Martinez is a threat with his legs as much as his arm. He's passed for 1,059 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's also ran for a team-high 298 yards and three touchdowns.

Senior Rex Burkhead, who was a thorn in the Buckeyes' side last season, has been slowed by injuries. He's played in just three games this season, but is averaging 9.4 yards a carry. The Cornhuskers' leading rusher is Ameer Abdullah, who is ran for 486 and five touchdowns.

The Nebraska receiving group is spearheaded by Quincy Enunwa (16-173-1td) and Kenny Bell (15-330-4td).

"This is a tough one," Meyer said. "This is a dynamic offense that when you make a mistake against some teams, it's an eight-yard gain. Well, this one, a mistake is an 80 yard gain. That's the biggest difference I see in Nebraska's offense."

The Buckeyes' defense received brilliant play once again from the defensive line with big Johnathan Hankins and John Simon leading the way. As Nathan Williams continues to round back into form, the Buckeyes have been getting better pressure.

Meyer was much more impressed with the play of Ryan Shazier at linebacker. He also felt that Etienne Sabino had his best game to date at Ohio State. Sabino was the Buckeyes' defensive player of the week with six tackles, two assists, a tackle for loss, a hurry, a sack and a pass broken up.

"That's a hell of a day," Meyer said.

The defensive backfield stars from last were Bradley Roby, who returned to the lineup after battling a shoulder injury. He had seven tackles, four assists, a quarterback hurry and he blocked a punt on special teams, which was especially pleasing to Meyer.



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