Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini is facing his alma mater, Ohio State, on Saturday in Lincoln, the first conference meeting between the two schools ever. And if Pelini ever wants to stop having his career’s wagon hitched to Taylor Martinez, then he’s going to have to look good against his old school.
Pelini played for Earle Bruce and John Cooper in his days in Columbus, and he’s from Youngstown, OH. Basically, he led his family in the “O-H…I-O” chant from the day he was born. And given the state of Ohio State football at the moment, there’s no way a shot at coaching his alma mater isn’t at least in the back of his mind.
Pelini has also got to be wondering just how good Nebraska can be while he’s their head coach. Sure, he’s managed to make the program respectable again and even brought some pride back to the team’s defense as well. Plus, Nebraska uses a run-first offense again, which has to make the team’s old-school fans happy.
One day, if Pelini ever wins for real at Nebraska, I’ll spend 5,000 words on the irony that Frank Solich was fired because the higher-ups thought the option offense was outdated and holding the school back even though Eric Crouch had just owned college football for two years. He was followed by a-hole/West Coast Offense guru Bill Callahan, who was supposed to update the program, but only managed to fail to recruit talent and completely confuse the players who did show up to play with his ridiculously complex offense. There’s a reason Callahan is still the offensive line coach for the Jets, people.
Now Pelini is the head coach and he immediately went back to a run-first offense featuring the mostly-electric Taylor Martinez at quarterback, a player who would have looked very comfortable at quarterback under Solich and the legendary Tom Osborne before him.
The problem is that today’s quarterbacks have to be good passers, and Martinez is not. Rich Rodriguez and Paul Johnson have proven you can be 90 percent run, but only if your backfield is outrageously athletic. Martinez is a good runner, but he needs help too. And Running back Rex Burkhead is not the help he needs.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Burkhead as a power back/grinder, but for Martinez not to be completely exposed by superior defenses, there has to be a real big-play threat for the opposition to be concerned about. That – or Martinez wouldn’t keep getting hurt and/or having to throw passes in games – hasn’t materialized yet for the Huskers. Which is why their matchup with Ohio State Saturday is actually going to be a little closer than most fans think.
The Buckeyes can play defense even if their offense is so bad that Indiana fans actually feel a little sympathy for them. That’s actually not true. No one should ever feel bad for Ohio State for any reason.
Ohio State’s running game is even more one-dimensional than Nebraska’s. At least the Huskers have two decent threats on the ground. Ohio State’s ground game hasn’t really been anything to worry about since Beanie Wells left, which is why interim coach Luke Fickell has been using freshman quarterback Braxton Miller so much. The Buckeyes need the dual threat or opponents will just try to hit other quarterback Joe Bauserman so hard that Miller would have to play anyway because there’s not much of a run game to speak of.
The good news for Ohio State is they just have to turn Taylor Martinez into a pocket passer. Wisconsin pulled it off despite falling behind 14-7 in the first half and Nebraska was never the same. It was totally inexplicable that Nebraska started throwing in the second and third quarters, but it happened. Ohio State should just copy whatever Wisconsin did. Even if all the Badgers did was slip Nebraska’s offensive coordinator a $100 bill before the game.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think Nebraska is going to win. It’s just a week after they got buried by Wisconsin because, and I’m still not sure what the hell happened to the Huskers in that game. They mostly just flat out sucked in every phase after the middle of the second quarter.
That said, Ohio State is a shambles on the field, so I’m thinking this could be another 10-6 beauty like the Buckeyes played last week against Michigan State.