It is difficult to be overly critical of a 52-17 victory, but when the expectations are national championship or bust like they are in Columbus, everything is magnified.
So, while there were numerous positives in the Buckeyes’ rout of Nebraska in the season opener, there were some things that need to get cleaned up if Ohio State wants to make a run at a title.
Let’s start with what went right.
Justin Fields and the passing game
Ohio State’s offense will go as Justin Fields goes, and Fields was dazzling against the Cornhuskers. He was nearly perfect, finishing 20-of-21 for 276 yards and two touchdowns.
It was almost unfair as Nebraska simply could not stay close to Ohio State’s 1-2 receiver punch of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. The two combined for 13 catches and 231 yards. No other receiver had more than two catches, but that should not be too concerning. The Buckeyes are breaking in a lot of young receivers and it will take some time for them to get comfortable. True freshman Jaxon Smith-Njigba showed off his potential with an incredible second-half TD catch where he was somehow able to get a toe in bounds while falling out of the end zone.
The biggest concern regarding the Ohio State defense coming into the season was in the secondary, where the Buckeyes lost three starters to the NFL. Now, Nebraska will not be the most potent passing team the Buckeyes face this season, but the new players on the back end held their own Saturday. There were a couple of breakdowns, but the coverage was solid overall. Nebraska had to settle for short throws to tight ends and running backs because nothing deep opened up.
Another question mark for the defense was on the interior. The Buckeyes lost several key pieces there from last season and are looking for some new faces to make an impact. While the tackles took some time to get comfortable against Nebraska, they settled in nicely as the game went on. The group was spearheaded by junior Haskell Garrett, who was shot in the face less than two months ago. Garrett was extremely disruptive and his play is a good sign that the interior of the defense will be just fine this fall.
On the flip side, here are some issues that will require some ironing out.
Running back play
Nobody expected Master Teague or Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon to be an equal replacement to J.K. Dobbins, but more was predicted than what Sermon and Teague did in the opener.
Teague and Sermon combined for a pedestrian 96 yards on 23 carries and struggled in short-yardage situations. Part of that was Nebraska loading the box and the offensive line not opening up a lot of big holes. But the OSU running backs are going to have to be more productive going forward.
One bright spot was sophomore Steele Chambers, who flashed with 32 yards on four carries. Perhaps he will get more work starting with Saturday’s game against a stingy Penn State rushing defense.
Defensive line pressure
The Buckeyes’ defensive front led by Chase Young gave opposing quarterbacks nightmares last season. Without Young, the Buckeyes need to find new sources of pressure.
They were able to put more pressure on Nebraska quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey in the second half Saturday, but none of the defensive ends were able to get a consistently strong pass rush. The Buckeyes need more pressure from a combination of ends Jonathon Cooper, Zach Harrison, Tyler Friday, Tyreke Smith and Javontae Jean-Baptiste.
Harrison played sparingly, although he did get a sack. He may be a little banged up, so hopefully for Ohio State he can get fully healthy because he is the team’s best pass rusher.
Defending the QB run
Dating back to the last couple of seasons, the Achilles’ heel of the Ohio State defense is defending the quarterback run.
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence gave the Buckeyes fits with his running in the Fiesta Bowl and Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez found success against the OSU defense as well last week with 77 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
The Buckeyes are going to have to find a way to get better at slowing down running quarterbacks. Penn State QB Sean Clifford, who the Buckeyes face Saturday, is coming off a 119-yard rushing effort against Indiana. O