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Early Analysis: Nebraska vs. Ohio State

No. 21 Nebraska at No. 14 Ohio State
8:00 p.m. ABC
Line: Ohio State -4.5

Coming off an impressive victory in East Lansing last weekend, the Ohio State Buckeyes return home for a big home game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska is also coming off a huge win at home in which they dug out of a deep hole to put away Wisconsin. The latest battle of two of the top teams in the Big Ten should make for an interesting evening in Columbus, with Nebraska needing a similar rally against Ohio State last season in Lincoln to send the Buckeyes home with a tough loss. Can Ohio State fend off the Huskers this time around?

For Ohio State to Win: Stay focused. Last year Ohio State jumped out to a surprising and early lead at Nebraska but was unable to keep the momentum going to allow Nebraska to chip away and take control of the game. If Ohio State gets in to that sort of situation again, a more mature Braxton Miller led by Urban Meyer figure to be a good combo not to let that history repeat itself. The Buckeyes are also being mentioned as the best in the conference with a 5-0 record after beating Michigan State, and playing in front of a home crowd this could be a tricky situation if they are not careful.

For Nebraska to Win: Start strong. As mentioned above, this Ohio State team does not seem to be the same group that allowed Nebraska to creep back in to the game last year. For Nebraska to leave Columbus with a win they need to have Taylor Martinez playing sharp early and get Rex Burkhead or Ameer Abdullah and the running game on track to not only set the tone but to start managing the clock. Ohio State has shown they are capable of being a quick strike sort of offense and Miller is capable of scoring nearly any time he is on the field. Limiting those opportunities early while putting some points on the board should give the Huskers an edge.

Key Player, Ohio State: We can sit and talk about Braxton Miller all day, but today let us focus on one of his key options, wide receiver Devin Smith. Smith enters this weekend leading the team in receiving with 351 yards and four touchdowns and he is coming off his second best game of the season with 79 receiving yards against the Spartans. Nebraska has been decent against the pass, ranked 27th in the nation allowing 188 yards per game, and Ohio State not exactly full of options in the passing game, Smith will be the go-to guy to keep an eye on.

Key Player, Nebraska: We all know about Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead but with Burkhead battling through injuries this season the Huskers have found a budding star in Ameer Abdullah. The sophomore from Alabama leads Nebraska in rushing with 486 yards and five touchdowns and has shown he is more than capable of the responsibilities running the football for Nebraska. While he still serves as a nice alternative to Burkhead when he is on the field, Abdullah seems to be a player Nebraska should try to get more involved in the offense after already putting together a pair of 100-yard rushing performances this season and averaging 7.0 yards per carry last week against Wisconsin.

Key Stat: Neither team has been easy to score on when entering the red zone, which should be evidence of how defensively sound the Huskers and Buckeyes are entering the first weekend of October. Nebraska is ranked tenth in the nation in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score just 62.5 percent of the time (10 out of 16 times), with five touchdowns allowed. Ohio State has given up fewer red zone scores but a higher percentage with opponents leaving the red zone with eight scores out of 12 trips, including just four touchdowns.

Clearly, if either team gets any pressure in the red zone, coming away with touchdowns will have a dramatic impact on the outcome. This typically goes without saying, but when you have two red zone defenses as solid as these, it becomes even more important.

Ohio State has been marginally more successful (percentage wise) inside the red zone than Nebraska, converting on 17 of 19 red zone trips (15 touchdowns) compared to Nebraska converting on 21 of 25 red zone trips with 17 touchdowns.

 

Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com and host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Follow him on TwitterGoogle+and Facebook.

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Managing editor of Crystal Ball Run and contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.

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