‘It needs to be different this year’: Blackshirts steeling themselves for Buckeye buzzsaw

‘It needs to be different this year’: Blackshirts steeling themselves for Buckeye buzzsaw
The two blowouts are burned in the Nebraska defenders’ brains. “I know all the bad things,” Lamar Jackson said. (BRENDAN SULLIVAN/THE WORLD-HERALD)

LINCOLN — Oh, Lamar Jackson remembers. He doesn’t need reminders of any of the 118 points Ohio State has scored in the last 120 minutes of play against Nebraska.

The two blowouts are burned in the Nebraska defenders’ brains.

“I know all the bad things,” Jackson said.

The stats from the last two times Nebraska played Ohio State are ludicrous.

Zero punts forced, 75 first downs gained by the Buckeyes, along with 1,223 total yards. A 75 percent completion rate for OSU quarterbacks, 5.8 yards per carry as a team and 11 yards per completion. Ohio State had 22 possessions in two games and scored on 18 of them. Two of the scoreless drives were at the end of the games.

“For the most part, I try not to think about it,” said Jackson, who started at corner in last year’s game and saw action in the 2016 game.

The challenge is staring the Huskers in the face yet again. Because Ohio State yet again boasts one of the top offenses in the country, scoring 43 points per game and racking up more than 550 yards.

“They’re always one of the most physical teams we’ll play all year, and probably some of the best skill players we’ll see all year, too,” senior outside linebacker Luke Gifford said.

Ohio State has thumped Nebraska so badly the past two seasons that junior linebacker Mohamed Barry can tell you, in detail, how they physically, and mentally, tear teams apart. Because he’s been torn apart. Twice.

“A lot of motions, a lot of four-strong looks. Four verticals, they like to stretch the field, RPOs, isolating their best player on your player, saying, ‘OK, my player can beat your player.’ Finding ways to put linebackers in binds ever since I’ve played them. That’s the biggest thing they want to do,” Barry said. “Even the curl flat player, you know, do I take the Will, do I come off on the opposite? Do I play that flat, do I play high or low? Those players can do stuff with a lot of space. So that’s stuff they like to do.”

Last year, under defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, the Huskers played it safe. Didn’t blitz all that much, just sat back in coverage. J.T. Barrett picked the Huskers apart, completing 27 of 33 passes to 11 receivers for five touchdowns. He picked up two more touchdowns on the ground with 55 rushing yards.

The good news for Nebraska is Barrett is gone. The bad news is he was replaced at quarterback by Dwayne Haskins, who might just be better. He leads the Big Ten in total yards per game, throwing for 350 yards and completing 71 percent of his passes.

He’s not a runner, which could change the dynamic of the game a bit, Barry said. But that doesn’t take away the litany of offensive weapons at Haskins’ disposal.

“The best thing they got going is all the guys they can rotate in and that play decent,” Jackson said. “It’s not one receiver that you can take a play off and really go easy on. You gotta make sure you’re on your stuff technique-wise each and every snap.”

Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s scheme is more aggressive than Diaco’s, or even Mark Banker’s scheme in 2016. But Nebraska’s defense still allows 33 points per game, and 438 yards per game, which is 13th in the Big Ten.

Diaco played it safe. Chinander will not.

“It becomes, how do you get your defense to play all the different formations, all the different ways they can put guys in different positions,” Chinander said. “You got to limit everything and you just gotta be sound.”

Gifford remembers the 2016 game in Columbus. He traveled as a sophomore and played mop-up duty while Nebraska was down eight touchdowns. He remembers that feeling well.

“It needs to be different this year, for sure,” he said.

Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins ‘right at the top’ of Big Ten

LINCOLN — Ask any Nebraska defensive coach, and he has a compliment ready for Dwayne Haskins.

Erik Chinander said the Ohio State sophomore from Potomac, Maryland, is “right at the top” of the players the Huskers have seen this year. Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud called him the best passer OSU coach Urban Meyer has had since Alex Smith, a veteran NFL quarterback whom he coached at Utah in the early 2000s. Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Haskins has the kind of touch on throws that keeps receivers in stride and hard to defend.

The only thing Haskins hasn’t done as well as previous Meyer QBs is run — he’s averaging just 7 rushing yards per game. But he more than makes up for it with 350.1 passing yards per game (second nationally), 30 passing touchdowns (tied for first) against five interceptions and a 71.1 completion percentage (fifth).

“Whether the protection breaks down or not, that ball’s usually out of his hands pretty quickly,” Chinander said. Ohio State has allowed just 12 sacks this season.

“We know that we need to put pressure on this quarterback,” Fisher said. “We’ve seen teams on film that haven’t put pressure on him and what happened. We’re very confident in the game plan this week, and we know we gotta play top down and be on top of those routes this week with these receivers.”

Special teams rising

Never has Jovan Dewitt enjoyed watching special teams at Nebraska more than last week.

A punt return touchdown. Two field-flipping punts. Solid work on kickoffs, limiting a Bethune-Cookman team that has been potent in that area.

The starting personnel groupings also remained virtually the same from the previous week, which hadn’t happened previously this year. Dewitt, the special teams coordinator, said situational adjustments that players made give him the most confidence that this positive twist can last.

A key, he said, was “just being able to understand when and where the ball is.

“And then, based on the location of the football and location of the returner, where we’re trying to place it. And being able to cover down in the right way. So that felt really good to do, to see some guys recognize the situations and then execute on them.”

Not overlooking ground game

Ohio State managed less than 100 rushing yards against both Minnesota and Purdue.

But Chinander and coach Scott Frost said Tuesday that they expect the Buckeyes to try to hammer the Huskers on the ground on Saturday.

“I know they haven’t run the ball as well as they would have liked in the last few weeks, but I’m sure they’re going to find a way to get that corrected,” Chinander said.

That’s the tricky thing about preparing for the Buckeyes, Chinander said. Even when they aren’t great at something, you can’t eliminate it completely.

OSU is the No. 1 scoring offense in the Big Ten, averaging 43 points per game. The Buckeyes are averaging 556 yards per contest, 172 on the ground and 384 through the air.

With the amount of talent they have, you have to just try to limit everything, Chinander said.

“It becomes, how do you get your defense to play all the different formations, all the different ways they can put guys in different positions,” Chinander said. “You got to limit everything and you just gotta be sound.”

Huskers try to emulate Purdue

Purdue shocked the college football world with its 29-point win over Ohio State. Chinander said the Boilermaker defense didn’t do anything special. It just got off the field.

“If you watch through the game, Ohio State walked down the field a little bit, and then Purdue found a way to get a stop. And then (Ohio State) got it going again a little bit, and Purdue found a way to get a stop,” Chinander said. “And that kind of went on forever.”

That’ll be Nebraska’s game plan. Just get off the field. And bring the same energy Purdue brought.

“I thought Purdue played really, really hard. I thought they played very, very hard on defense,” Chinander said. “I thought those kids just played tough and really hard the whole game and they never quit.”

Javin Wright, son of former Husker and NFL player Toby Wright, commits to Nebraska

LINCOLN — At 4, Buddha already was playing football in his living room, which was perfect since his dad was a college football star and six-year NFL veteran. By then, Buddha probably had shed the baby fat responsible for his nickname, given to him by his grandma. His teammates call him Buddha now. So did Nebraska fans when he made his official visit.

“It’s actually weird to hear Javin,” said Nebraska’s newest addition to the 2019 recruiting class.

Javin Wright, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound cornerback from Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton High School, officially announced his pick of Nebraska over UCLA on Halloween, although NU coaches had known for a week that the son of ex-Husker Toby Wright was headed their way.

It’s a choice Javin Wright long wanted to make. He’d heard his dad’s stories about the 1992 and 1993 Husker teams that won Big Eight titles. He’d known former Husker Lawrence Phillips, one of his dad’s close friends. And he knew about the black practice jerseys guys toiled for years to attain, and the tears they shed when one was hung in their locker.

Buddha’s coming to Nebraska for one of his own.

“I need to earn a Blackshirt,” Wright said.

Nebraska needed more defensive backs on its roster. Wright — as long and lean as current Husker freshman Braxton Clark — will get a crack at corner, he said, because coaches think his footwork and technique — taught and honed by Toby Wright — is good enough for the position.

But Wright adds he could be more versatile. Maybe he puts on 15 pounds and becomes a safety. He didn’t even rule out playing outside linebacker, if that’s what his best position becomes.

“I’m fine with playing in the box, but my real strength is my coverage ability,” Wright said. “I’m more of a cover corner who will still come up and smack you. I still have some Toby Wright in me.”

The elder Wright was a rover at Nebraska where, as a senior in 1993, he had 73 tackles and three interceptions for a team that fell just short of the national title. The Rams picked him in the second round of the 1994 NFL draft. He played six years in the NFL and is now a personal trainer, Javin said.

Toby coached and developed Javin for years, but the tutelage became more serious once Javin reached high school and transferred to Hamilton. Along with Anthony Parker — an Arizona State graduate and a former NFL teammate of Toby’s — Javin learned how to play cornerback. He became a three-star college prospect who attracted offers from Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and UCLA. Nebraska wasn’t interested, Javin Wright said, when Mike Riley was head coach.

That changed when new NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander came to a spring practice at Hamilton. Chinander watched Wright work out and chose to offer a scholarship before he knew Javin was Toby’s son.

“I didn’t get an offer because I’m a legacy recruit,” Javin said.

But Javin’s ties to Nebraska didn’t hurt the Huskers’ chances, and his visit to NU for the Sept. 8 Colorado game had a better “vibe” than his trip to UCLA. Because his season was cut short by a sprained MCL in his knee — Wright said he was about “80 percent” recovered — he had plenty of time to think about his decision.

Nebraska, he said, was the right spot. He becomes the 20th commit in the class and the second defensive back. He also becomes a legacy.

Although he let his son make the decision and has stayed out of the spotlight, Dad is excited, Javin said. That was obvious to the young man they call Buddha when he saw his dad on the official visit to Nebraska.

It was Dad’s first trip to Memorial Stadium, Javin said, in 15 years. When Toby Wright saw his former head coach, Tom Osborne, he began to weep.

“He’s all about Nebraska,” Javin said of his dad. Toby might even rent an apartment in Lincoln so he can watch every game.

Quick hits

» Tight end/offensive lineman Cameron Jurgens remains sidelined with a broken right foot. The true freshman from Beatrice left practice Tuesday on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

» Fisher said scheming against Ohio State’s receiving corps is especially difficult considering its depth. Parris Campbell (52 catches for 600 yards) and K.J. Hill (49 for 656) are the leaders, but six others have at least 14 catches and a combined 18 touchdowns.

“They do a great job of running routes, a great job of catching the ball all across the board,” Fisher said. “I’ve watched a lot of film and I can’t find a top one. I think all of them are top receivers to me.”

» Fisher said sophomore safety Deontai Williams is more confident in the film room, and that is translating onto the field. He recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass last weekend.

“In the room, he’s needed,” Fisher said. “When he’s asked upon, he shows up.”

Nebraska at Ohio State

When: 11 a.m. (Pregame: 6 a.m.)

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Radio: 103.1 FM

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