Tackle Braxton Miller
Ohio State is a five point favorite going into this week's game against Nebraska Saturday night in Columbus. On paper, that might be a surprise given that the Huskers have been better in every major offensive category, in the return game, and in a number of the major defensive categories. NU's negative turnover margin and the tough environment at OSU are certainly reasons to like the Buckeyes. The single biggest asset for Ohio St. though has got to be Heisman candidate Braxton Miller.
NU's offense will be tested again this week. Once again they face a strong rushing defense, a good scoring defense, and a pass defense that gives up yards but has still made the opposition inefficient. Add the noise in the Horseshoe, and it will be a challenge to put points on the board.
That pales compared to the challenge that awaits the NU defense. Dual-threat quarterbacks have been kryptonite to Bo Pelini's defenses over the years. You won't find many that run better than OSU's Braxton Miller. Last season, he gave the Buckeyes a big lead in Lincoln. The Huskers would come back to win that game, but that may not have happened if Miller hadn't left the game with an injury. Now healthy, he's averaging 115 yards rushing per game with over 6 yards per carry and 7 rushing touchdowns. He's also passing for 187 yards per game with a 63% completion rate and 8 scores against 3 picks.
When you look at Ohio State's offense overall, it's not quite as intimidating. Jordan Hall, OSU's top running back to date left last week's game against Michigan State with an injury. He's only tallied 218 yards on the year with 1 touchdown. Carlos Hyde, his likely replacement, has 158 yards and 2 scores. Wide receiver Philly Brown leads their team in receptions with 32 for 317 yards and a touchdown, Devin Smith has been the big play guy with 19 catches for 351 yards and four touchdowns, and tight end Jake Stoneburner has seven catches for 92 yards and three scores. That's a credible cast around Miller, but not an overly intimidating one. You'd probably give the edge to NU's Ameer Abdullah, Rex Burkhead, Kenny Bell, Kyler Reed, and Quincy Enunwa over that group.
Nebraska's best hope is probably to make that supporting cast win the game. Assume on every play that Miller intends to run. Swarm him to tackle him or make him give the ball up and then live with what the players around him can do. He's never passed for more than 249 yards in a game. His rushing was probably the difference in four of OSU's five wins this season. That won't guarantee victory. He did show he could throw four touchdowns against Cal. Then again, it was that fifth one that he ran in against the Golden Bears that was the margin of victory.
This looked like the toughest game on the schedule for NU going into the season. It still does. If the Huskers can keep Miller from beating them with his legs, they'll have a chance to win on the road in a hostile environment. Maybe a very good one.