Ohio State-Nebraska: 3 keys, game picks, score predictions

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Can Ohio State football cover the spread against Nebraska on Saturday?

Despite the fact that Ohio State’s  offensive line is in flux after starting right guard Branden Bowen broke his leg, the Buckeyes are big favorites against the Cornhuskers. They will  get back defensive tackle Michael Hill after a six-game suspension and defensive end Nick Bosa has been a beast lately.

Here are three keys for the Ohio State-Nebraska game, followed by predictions from our three Land of 10 Ohio State writers.

1. The weather

It looks as though thunderstorms will be present at some point Saturday, which wouldn’t be ideal for Ohio State. It may not impact the Buckeyes’ ability to win going away, given that they dominated Tulsa and Oklahoma despite rain delays last season. But it could affect their style of play, forcing both teams to run the ball more. That would be true even if the rain comes earlier in the day, because 20 mph winds are forecast to follow the storms. While the Buckeyes would be just fine in a ground battle, they likely would enjoy one last opportunity to work on their passing attack and pass defense before Penn State comes to town. Would that happen in bad weather? It’s not likely. The good news, though, is that if it rains before the teams play or if lightning forces a delay until the rain is done, Memorial Stadium has artificial turf, so the game wouldn’t be played in a mud pit.

2. Turnover margin

Quarterback Tanner Lee was supposed to be a game-changing addition for Nebraska — at least based on reports of his play in the offseason — but it hasn’t quite turned out that way. Instead, he’s been a human JUGS machine for opposing defenses, throwing 10 interceptions along with his 11 touchdowns. Obviously, he can’t play against Ohio State the way he did against Oregon and Northern Illinois, when he tossed seven interceptions in two losses. If he does that, the Cornhuskers are toast.

It also will be imperative for the Buckeyes to avoid turnovers. As Michigan showed against Michigan State, turning the ball over repeatedly in bad weather is a great way to get upset against a lesser team. As long as Ohio State takes care of the ball, everything should be fine in Lincoln.

3. Filling holes

The Buckeyes lost Bowen to a broken leg, and he likely will be replaced on the offensive line by Matthew Burrell or Demetrius Knox. Ohio State cannot afford to have a liability on that side of the ball, especially with Isaiah Prince’s inconsistency at right tackle.

It’s also worth monitoring the interior of the defensive line, where Hill will play for the first time this season after serving a six-game suspension. It’s likely that Ohio State will work him back in slowly, but he could be needed against Penn State. Likewise, this will be the first game back for defensive tackle Dre’mont Jones after missing two games because of a laceration on his leg.

Ohio State-Nebraska picks, score predictions

Point spread: Ohio State -24

Over/under: 58 points

Ohio State is 3-3 against the spread this season, and the Buckeyes will have their work cut out for them as a 24-point favorite on the road. Four of the Buckeyes’ six games have gone over the point total, which is set for 58 points on Saturday. Nebraska is 2-4 against the spread and has split the over/under total thus far with three apiece.

Jeremy Birmingham: Ohio State 38, Nebraska 14

Ryan Ginn: Ohio State 49, Nebraska 9

Austin Ward: Ohio State 41, Nebraska 13

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