No. 10 Ohio State defeated Nebraska on Saturday, but if you were looking for some kind of statement victory from the Buckeyes following a bye week, you'll have to keep waiting. The Buckeyes did come away with the 36-31 win, but in the end, this performance was one that ended up feeling more like a sigh of relief than anything else. Dwayne Haskins threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns, but it was the run game that led Ohio State to the narrow win. J.K. Dobbins rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns, while Mike Weber spelled him with an additional 91 yards on nine carries.
Nebraska was led by quarterback Adrian Martinez. The freshman threw for 266 yards and a score while rushing for 72 yards and two more touchdowns. He did everything he could to keep Nebraska in the game, but in the end, it simply wasn't enough.
Here are a couple key takeaways from the Buckeyes' win.
1. Ohio State needs to take better care of the ball: While the Buckeyes have had plenty of problems this season, ball security hadn't been one of them. They'd turned the ball over only seven times in their first eight games, and were second in the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-6 entering today's game. Well that number has dropped, with Ohio State fumbling six times on Saturday. They only lost two of them, but still, you can't put the ball on the ground that often and expect to win more often than not. That, combined with a horrible Dwayne Haskins interception in the red zone, gave the Buckeyes three turnovers on the day. It was able to survive against a Nebraska team that had its own miscues (more on them later), but if Ohio State does this against Michigan, it's going to lose.
2. Big plays in the passing game are still a problem for the Buckeyes: You have to believe one of the things Ohio State wanted to work on over the bye week was limiting explosion plays in the passing game. Coming into this game, the Buckeyes had allowed 16 passing plays of 30 yards or more in eight games; that's two per game. It's more than any other team in the Big Ten has allowed this season, and it ranks 110th in the country. Well, they gave up two more today, as Martinez connected with Austin Allen for a 41-yard gain in the first quarter, and then hit Stanley Morgan for 46 yards in the fourth quarter. The Cornhuskers had only five passes go for more than 40 yards on the season coming into the game, so this is still a problem for this Ohio State defense.
3. The rushing attack was better for the Buckeyes today: Listen, it's not all bad news. While Ohio State had been averaging 4.36 yards per carry in the ground game this season, a number that is bad on its own, it was averaging only 3.66 yards per carry in five Big Ten games. Today the Buckeyes rushed for 229 yards on 40 carries as a team. That's 5.73 yards per pop, which isn't elite, but is a much better rate than they'd been working at coming into the week. If they can keep up this kind of performance, it will make life easier on both the offense and the defense going forward.
4. Nebraska could have won this game: Maybe it's a moral victory hanging tough on the road with the No. 10 team in the country, but there are some moments Nebraska would probably like back. For instance, there was this attempt at an onside kick after the Huskers took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Ohio State wouldn't get any points out of it, but the Buckeyes would block a Nebraska punt on the Huskers' next possession for a safety. And while Nebraska had only one turnover on the day, it was a bad one. With Nebraska at the Ohio State 10, Martinez made a bone-headed decision that cost his team.
Now these moments alone didn't cost Nebraska the game, but you can't do things like this if you're trying to go on the road to upset a top-10 team, even if that top 10-team isn't playing like one.