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With the Urban Meyer Era fewer than 50 days aways from kicking off in Columbus, we at Buckeye Grove- along with some help from our friends in the Rivals.com network- have decided to take an in-depth look at each of Ohio State's opponents for the 2012 season. Today, we'll be examining the Buckeyes' sixth opponent of the season: the Nebraska Cornhuskers. You can see yesterday's preview of the Michigan State Spartans by clicking here.
A season ago, the Ohio State football team seemed to turn a corner in what was shaping to be a disaster of a season when it found itself leading No. 14-ranked Nebraska by 14 points in the first half of the two teams' inaugural Big Ten matchup.
And then the second half started.
Down by 21 points in the second half, the Cornhuskers rallied to their comeback win in program history, spurring themselves to a 9-4 record, while the Buckeyes went in a tailspin that resulted in their first losing season since 1988.
This season, the Buckeyes will get their chance for revenge against Nebraska on Oct. 6, when the Huskers head north for their first trip to Columbus as members of the Big Ten.
There will be plenty of familiar faces from a year ago on the field for Nebraska, including junior quarterback Taylor Martinez. A gifted runner, Martinez rushed for 874 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, and he's spent this past offseason attempting to improve his passing skills.
"He's definitely been working on it a lot. I mean, in the offseason he's been receiving some quarterback instruction from a quarterback instructor named Steve Calhoun in California whenever Nebraska has a break,' Sean Callahan of HuskerOnline.com said. "He's definitely come a long way in this area. I think he knows in order to be a big-time quarterback he has to improve his passing and his footwork and mechanics and I think he's done a pretty good job trying to get there."
Aiding Martinez in the Huskers' offense will be senior running back Rex Burkhead, who rushed for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011. A power runner, Burkhead ran for 119 yards and a score against the Buckeyes a season ago, in addition to adding 59 receiving yards. With Ohio State lacking experience in its linebacker unit, the Plano, Texas native could again play a crucial role in Nebraska's game plan against the Buckeyes.
"As we saw in the game last year, they were able to really run laterally and really wear them down. When Nebraska's coaches talked about that game, they just ran the same play 10 times in a row because Ohio State couldn't stop that," Callahan said. "I don't think there's going to be very many teams that can out-muscle Ohio State, they're always going to be one of the most physical teams in the league on defense. So Nebraska I think found a good way to wear them down and use the tempo and the pace of their offense and they're probably going to have to do it again this year."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Huskers return six starters, led by middle linebacker Will Compton, who recorded 82 tackles in 2011. The Huskers lack experience their secondary, but Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini is hopeful that a pair of newcomers can add some much needed talent to his team's cornerback position.
"They feel like in the secondary they've got a lot of interchangeable parts," Callahan said. "Mohammed Seisay is a junior college transfer, he was a four-star corner, he's expected to probably start. Charles Jackson is a Rivals100 corner that was a US Army All-American from Texas, but I think he'll have a shot at maybe playing."
Nebraska ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring, passing, and rushing defense in 2011. Callahan expects those numbers to improve, as long as the Huskers can stay healthy.
"Last year, there were a lot of injuries. When you look at Bo Pelini's track record when he was in the Big 12 facing off some of the best offenses in the country, they were a top-10 national defense," Callahan said. "They had a lot of injuries on the defensive line last year. They'll have a really deep defensive line this year."
But if the Huskers' defensive line is still struggling and the Buckeyes' offensive line finds itself in-synch by the sixth game of the season, it could mean a big day for running back Carlos Hyde, and a potentially healthy Jordan Hall.
Another advantage for Ohio State is that not only will this year's game be played in Columbus, but it won't kickoff until 8 p.m.
"Everybody knows though going in there at night, there's very few teams that can win in there at night," Callahan said. "It's a very tough place to play."
Regardless of the outcome of the game, Callahan said that the Nebraska fan base is excited to continue this new rivalry, before the two programs take a four year break from playing each other in the regular season.
"There will be a fair share of Huskers fans that try to go up there. I know there's one trip a year that all the skybox suite holders get to go on and I believe it's the Ohio State game this year, so Nebraska will have their big alumni charter going up there," Callahan said. "There's definitely a lot of excitement."
The Oct. 6 matchup between the Buckeyes and Huskers will air on either ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2.
You can follow Sean Callahan on Twitter @Sean_Callahan.
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