Buckeyes, Cornhuskers in ‘elimination’ game
COLUMBUS — For a pair of one-loss teams, there couldn’t be much more at stake when No. 9 Nebraska clashes with No. 6 Ohio State on Saturday night.
Wisconsin beat the Cornhuskers (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) in overtime last week, spoiling their perfect record, dropping them in the AP Top 25 poll and making it much harder for them to accomplish their postseason goals.
Ohio State was upset by unranked Penn State two weeks ago. The Buckeyes continue to struggle in the vertical passing game and just squeaked by unranked Northwestern last week at home.
The loser of Saturday’s primetime game at Ohio Stadium will have its national playoff hopes all but dashed in front of a huge TV audience, and be saddled with a much more winding route to the conference crown.
“It will be a big chore for us,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “We have to play a great, complete ballgame, and have to be ready to take advantage of any opportunities presented to us as we go.”
Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp said the matchup has all the makings of a “statement game” for the Cornhuskers.
“The mood is good,” he said. “We are excited for this week — huge opportunity for us. We control our own destiny. Guys are still pumped up, they’re jacked to go to Columbus to play a great team at Ohio State.”
Ohio State guard Billy Price said the team can’t wait to play a Saturday game at home after being on the road for three of them this season.
“Night games here in the ‘Shoe are special,” Price said. “It’s just one of these historical places, and it’s an absolutely electric atmosphere. Pretty much the city of Columbus shuts down, and everybody’s worried about the Buckeyes game.”
Westerkamp said it gives Nebraska players extra confidence knowing that Ohio State was upset by Penn State and struggled until the last drive before beating Northwestern. But the Buckeyes, he said, must be respected. “They’re a different kind of animal,” Westerkamp said. “We know how good they are, but they’re beatable.”
Riley, in his second year at Nebraska, will be making his first trip to Ohio Stadium. “I’ve had a lot of respect for what they’ve done and obviously their recruiting has been outstanding,” he said. “They’ve been that team in the league lately that’s set the bar, but I think that there’s teams rising too, so that’s kind of exciting.”
ARMSTRONG VS. THE TOP 25
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has struggled while going 0-3 against ranked opponents on the road in his career. He’s a combined 38 for 92 (41.3 percent) with one touchdown and five interceptions in those games. The fourth-year starter is 1-8 against ranked opponents, home and away, hitting 49.7 percent of his passes with 10 TDs and 14 interceptions.
TOUGH IN FOURTH QUARTER
Nebraska will like its chances if it’s a close game in the fourth quarter. The Huskers have outscored opponents by a nation-best 95 points in the final quarter and were dominant even in their loss at Wisconsin last week, outscoring the Badgers 10-0 to force the extra session and holding the ball for 9:41. The Huskers average 10:05 in possession time in the fourth quarter.
RANKINGS? WHAT RANKINGS?
Ohio State is No. 6 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, and Nebraska is No. 10. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he doesn’t really care. “Oh, it’s important, (but) not for us,” he said. “I won’t look at it. I’m sure people will tell me about it. But, I mean, it’s not going to change the way we work.”
Barrett said the ranking is of little importance right now. “I don’t care about it too much, being that there’s still a lot of football to be played,” he said.