1. Can Ohio State put together two good halves?
Perhaps it is not fair to compare one team to the next, but it is hard to think about OSU-Nebraska without remembering the Buckeyes’ collapse in 2011. After building a 27-6 lead, they gave up 28 unanswered points and went home on the wrong end of a 34-27 score. That represented the biggest lead ever surrendered by Ohio State and in some ways served to represent the up-and-down nature of the team’s season.
This season the Buckeyes have often suffered through fits and starts balanced by big quarters to take control of or rally in games.
Nebraska showed last week it still knows a thing or two about rallying as the Cornhuskers shook off a disastrous first half to clip Wisconsin 30-27 in Lincoln.
2. Will the Buckeyes be able to slow down the option?
Nebraska will enter Ohio Stadium on Saturday leading the Big Ten in total offense and scoring, and they mostly have a powerful running game to thank for that.
The Huskers average 305.8 yards per game on the ground using a blend of zone reads and more traditional option plays triggered by dynamic junior quarterback Taylor Martinez. He has a pair of dangerous options in the backfield with senior Rex Burkhead, a returning All-Big Ten first-teamer, and sophomore Ameer Abdullah.
An athletic line that features cut blocking also presents a challenge for the Buckeyes, who yielded 119 yards to Burkhead and 102 to Martinez last season.
Ohio State is 19th in the nation and third in the Big Ten against the run (100.8 yards per game) after shutting down Michigan State last weekend.
3. Which quarterback will have a better passing day?
Martinez and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller are two of the best running quarterbacks in college football, but neither is a one-trick pony.
Both are enjoying much better seasons throwing in 2012 than they did in 2011. After spending the summer working on his throwing motion, Martinez is leading the Big Ten and 12th in the nation with a passer efficiency rating of 169.6. He has thrown for 1,059 yards with 11 touchdowns passes and only one interception, although that pick was a costly one in the fourth quarter of Nebraska’s 36-30 loss at UCLA in week two.
Miller has thrown for 933 yards, already nearing his total passing output of last season, and has eight touchdowns to go with three interceptions. He will have to deal with a Husker secondary that can be tough to read because of its practice of pattern matching, something the Buckeyes have not seen this season.
4. Who will win the turnover battle?
This could be an advantage for the Buckeyes, who are plus-2 on the year in turnovers despite finishing minus-3 last week at Michigan State.
Nebraska heads to Columbus minus-3 on the season, and the Huskers’ tendency to put the ball on the ground nearly cost them their Big Ten opener. They fumbled six times last week, losing two that led to 14 Wisconsin points as the Badgers built their first-half lead.
Nebraska’s nine lost fumbles are the most in the nation, and potential rain in the forecast might not make hanging onto the ball any easier.
5. What about the kicking game?
Urban Meyer stresses winning the kicking game as part of his plan to win, but the Buckeyes have had a few adventures in this department in the first half of the season.
They have blocked two PATs and got to a punt last week, but Ben Buchanan had one of his punts blocked the week before by UAB thanks to a blown blocking assignment.
Ohio State has not gotten much out of its return game yet this season with no kickoff returns longer than 26 yards and a punt return average of 6.1 that is 83rd in the country and ninth in the Big Ten.
For Nebraska, wide receiver Kenny Bell leads the Big Ten in kickoff return average (29.7 yards) and Abdullah is second in the conference in punt return average (15.0). Abdullah returned a kickoff 83 yards to set up a Nebraska field goal last week and took a punt back 81 yards for a score against Idaho State the week before.