The Buckeyes are No. 5 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, while Week Nine opponent Nebraska is working on a fourth straight losing season, with 18 of its last 26 losses by eight points or less.
Columbus, OH – For the precious few college football teams that are among the elite in the nation season after season after season, stress comes in the form of having too many penalties, too many hiccups in the red zone and flat out not playing up to snuff.
It’s a nuisance like having the common cold. No hospitalization is required.
That’s what happened to Ohio State in a 33-24 victory over Penn State last Saturday, and head coach Ryan Day, his assistants and players leadership group went to work fixing those bobbles with film study, punishment in the form of running laps and game-speed competition in practice.
Tight end Cade Stover knew what was coming when the players watched video.
“As anybody who has played a sport, it’s always tough to watch when you know something bad is coming up,’’ he said. “You just sit there and take it. You take it like a man. They brought good looks and sometimes we didn’t execute the right way. We’re trying to learn what we did.’’
Left guard Thayer Munford put what Penn State did in Cliffs Notes form.
“You get punched in the mouth, you have to get right back up and keep going,’’ he said.
Nebraska doesn’t walk with the country’s hierarchy anymore, so picture what is going on inside that locker room these days.
Going into a game against fifth-ranked Ohio State (7-1) at noon Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, the Cornhuskers (3-6) have a coach in Scott Frost thinking about his job security, a quarterback in Adrian Martinez who has been like a dartboard for four years and a team that that has angered the fan base because it can’t finish games.
The athletic department will reap the profits of a 381st sellout, not counting the 2020 COVID-19 season. Otherwise, the outlook is grim. The Buckeyes are 15 ½-point favorites to win their 26th straight game against a Big Ten opponent and their 12th straight true conference road game.
How long have the Cornhuskers been dormant?
Way back in 2001, head coach Frank Solich took the Big Red to the national championship game and suffered a blowout loss to Miami in the Rose Bowl.
Two years later, he was fired for not competing for more national championships. That brings up the you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-until-it’s-gone line in the song, Big Yellow Taxi, by Joni Mitchell
Frost was supposed to be the messiah after terrible coaching hires in Mike Riley, Bo Pelini and Bill Callahan. Frost was a link to the past as the starting quarterback on Nebraska’s 1997 national championship team.
But after four-plus seasons Frost has a 15-26 record, and that includes 18 losses one by score.
“Magic speeches are not going to change this,’’ he said.
Nebraska can say it has had a lot of bad luck in losing its games this season by eight points or fewer, and that includes Oklahoma, Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota.
The loss to Michigan is a clear example of a failure to close out games under Frost.
The score was 29-all in the fourth quarter when Martinez got a first down on a sneak on third-and-one, but he kept driving for more yardage and fumbled the ball away in Cornhuskers territory.
The Wolverines kicked a 39-yard field goal with 1 minute, 24 seconds left to win 32-29.
It appears the team’s attitude is a problem.
Frost said this:
“A great team doesn’t need a coach to motivate them all the time.’’
“They weren’t ready to play in the second half.’’
Athletic director Trev Alberts, also a former Nebraska player, can fire Frost. But there is a hefty $20 million buyout that will go down hard a year after all the ticket revenue was lost to virus attendance protocols in the Big Ten.
Day has said his players can see the Cornhuskers’ record or watch the film.
“You watch across the country, week in and week out, a lot of things have happened this year,” he said. “So, we can’t let that happen to us, and we can’t have any regrets. And the only way to do that is to focus on right now and not be distracted. If you start looking ahead, if you start worrying about tomorrow, that’s where you get distracted, and we’ve got to stay disciplined in that area.”
His players aren’t all history majors, but they have to recall the success they’ve had against Nebraska, a 52-17 victory last season, a 48-7 victory in 2019, a 36-31 victory in 2018 and a 56-14 romp in 2017.
Another blowout would be beneficial because Ohio State is in something of a beauty pageant in that the College Football Playoff Committee is looking for style points from contenders for the four playoff spots.
“I feel like we all see the rankings, but we don’t talk about it much,’’ receiver Chris Olave said. “It’s the first rankings. We just have to keep the best football so we can keep moving on.’’
For Stover, the sting of a 35-28 loss to Oregon in Week Two hangs over his team. It’s like having a couple of penalty points on a driving record that only time will take away.
“I would say we’re prepared, especially after dropping a game early in the season,’’ he said. “We’re battle tested. We know what that feels like and we don’t want to feel that again.’’
That loss cost Ohio State a Top Four spot in the initial CFP poll. Georgia is No. 1, Alabama No. 2, Michigan State No. 3 and Oregon No. 4.
The good thing for the Buckeyes is they control their destiny with games remaining against No. 3 Michigan State and No. 7 Michigan.
Oregon’s remaining schedule is loaded with losers.
The Penn State game was full of mental and physical errors by the offense such as penalties and going 1-for-6 inside the Red Zone.
Yet the Buckeyes knew they got a great test from the Nittany Lions, a team that was desperate to stay in the Big Ten East division race, and they pranced and skipped up the runway in celebration to their locker room.
Six penalties – four false starts and two center snap violations – were called on the offense. Two penalties occurred on third down and one on fourth-and-goal at the one.
“We’ve just got to be better. If we want to be the best, we’ve got to play (our) best,’’ Munford said. “You don’t finish your blocks, you don’t score in the Red Zone. Right after the game, we said we can’t have that anymore. That’s done.’’
Munford attributed the offense’s problems and the line’s problems in particular to being too excited.
Olave pointed to the offense totaling 466 yards.
“It was just (a lack of) execution,’’ he said. “The offense was rolling. We just went 1-for-6 in the red zone. We have to score touchdowns in the red zone. If we did that, it’s a different game.’’