It’s late October, which seems like an odd time to be reviewing the first tape we have on Ohio State for the season. But hey, it’s 2020 and we finally had a season-opener (and a win), so there won’t be any complaints on this end. Regardless of the time of year, a lopsided scoreboard wasn’t indicative of the Week 1 bugs OSU will have to work through to have a shot at a playoff berth with limited games.
There was plenty to like, and plenty that needed improvement with a primetime matchup at Penn State on the horizon. Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Let’s not out-think the room here. Justin Fields is a no-brainer for the winners list this week. Coming into the year as a top-two quarterback prospect and a Heisman hopeful, it’s safe to say that he not only lived up to the hype, but possibly exceeded it through one week. Fields was 20-21 passing for 276 yards with two touchdown passes, and led the Buckeyes in rushing attempts (15) and nearly led in rushing yards (54), while also adding a score with his legs.
He played a nearly perfect game, and only made one questionable decision all game with his arm, which is reflective of his one incompletion. He fit the ball in tight windows, threw receivers open, and showcased extremely impressive accuracy all game long. When the play broke down, he was able to create positive yardage with his legs more times than not. A great opening game for a great player. We’re looking forward to watching him every Saturday this fall.
Youth at Wide Receiver
We knew what we were going to get from Chris Olave coming into this game, and he delivered with six receptions for 104 yards in the game. But, it wasn’t Olave that really pushed the needle in this game. Garrett Wilson stepped into an increased role offensively and dominated the Nebraska secondary to the tune of team-highs in receptions (7) and receiving yards (129), including a connection with Justin Fields on Ohio State’s longest play of the day -- a 42 yard touchdown reception.
Outside of Wilson, freshman Jaxon Smith-Njigba made an early-season catch-of-the-year candidate grab on a 5-yard touchdown reception and fellow newcomer Julian Fleming added one reception for 13 yards. Although the stats aren’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, the Buckeyes looked extremely deep in its receiving corps this weekend, and their opportunities to impress will only continue to grow following performances like this.
One of the biggest question marks for Ohio State coming into the season was its young secondary. With a host of last year’s starters moving on for NFL careers, Shaun Wade stepped into a new role as the number one corner on the team after being mostly limited to playing in the slot in 2019. For the most part, Ohio State’s secondary looked sharp. Wade had a nice pass breakup on a shot downfield, and the Buckeyes held the Cornhuskers to 160 yards passing in the game.
The Ohio State front-seven had its ups and downs in this contest, but Haskell Garrett jumped off the screen with his performance. After his availability was in question due to a scary incident prior to the season, Garrett entered the starting lineup for Week 1 and dominated the center of Nebraska’s offensive line. He only tallied two tackles in the game, but they came late in the first half when OSU only held a 3-point lead and Nebraska had some momentum going with its rushing attack.
On back-to-back plays, Garrett recorded a sack and a tackle-for-loss to force a Nebraska punt and give Ohio State’s offense great field position with 2:15 left in the half. Master Teague III punched in his second touchdown of the day on the ensuing possession, stretching the lead to 24-14 before half. Garrett was a great asset for Ohio State’s defensive line this Saturday.
Ohio State Rushing Attack
As previously mentioned, Justin Fields was essentially Ohio State’s leading rusher on the day. When you factor in the fact that the vast majority of his runs came on scrambles and not designed quarterback runs, that’s less than ideal. A team that ran for over 300 yards against Nebraska last year certainly missed J.K. Dobbins this weekend and has a lot of work to do before their next game against Penn State to figure it out.
The Buckeyes running backs were unable to pick up first downs on several short yardage situations, and although Master Teague found the end zone twice, that was the end of his highlight reel for the day. The back was held to 41 yards on 12 carries -- just 3.4 yards per rush. Trey Sermon showed some flashes of potential in the second half in particular, but he wasn’t a consistent part of the offense throughout the game. With limited snaps, freshman Steele Chambers made the most of his touches, but as a whole, OSU needs more out of their lead backs in an offense that has loved to pound the rock in recent years.
This was an issue particularly early in the game, but was much better in the second half. It should be noted that Scott Frost did an exceptional job of scheming Luke McCaffrey into the game plan at quarterback and running back, which was an unexpected wrinkle in the offense and it took Ohio State several possessions to adjust. Still, Nebraska was able to pick up multiple chunk gains with designed quarterback runs for Adrian Martinez and McCaffery. While they did adjust well to this in the second half, the Buckeye defense needs to be prepared to contain a lineup of much more mobile quarterbacks than they saw in the Big 10 last year.
Injuries have been a major concern for every team given the oddity of the schedule and preparations teams were able (or unable) to make coming into this season. For Ohio State, the largest concern after Week 1 is obviously Chris Olave, who took some major hits in the game and eventually exited in the third quarter. Wyatt Davis also had a scare in the game, but was able to return quickly.
These are key players for the Buckeyes that aren’t easily replaceable, but luckily for OSU, it doesn’t seem like anything major that would keep them out of the lineup long-term. Every team goes through an injury bug at some point in the season and if Ohio State is getting it out of the way now, hopefully that means they’ll be at full strength later in the year when they’re pushing for that playoff berth.
Fans, Band, Brutus. The big three at Ohio State games, and all three weren’t present in the Horseshoe for the first game of the year. While we may be starting to become accustomed to this “new normal” watching sports games, it still doesn’t change the feeling that something is much different at the stadium. This game was the first time we’ve ever seen Ohio Stadium that dull, and the overcast skies and cold, late-October gloomy Ohio weather mirrored the feeling most of us had looking at mostly empty stands in Columbus. Unfortunately, that feeling will only be heightened when Ohio State travels to play Penn State this week, for what would be a “white out” any other year.
There you have it. Those are my winners and losers from the Buckeyes’ first win of the 2020 season. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below!