The Buckeyes are making their first trip to Lincoln, and the Cornhuskers will play host as a Big Ten team for the first time.
The game will also be the first one to feature both the Blackshirts and the Silver Bullets.
Nebraska has fondly referred to its stop unit by the black practice jerseys awarded its starting defense since the 1960s, but Ohio State's use of its moniker is a more recent development.
Regular references to the Buckeye defenders as "Silver Bullets" began in 1996 when Fred Pagac, Sr., took over the unit and remade it into an aggressive, pressing and blitzing juggernaut. Pagac, who is now defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, was fond of saying the team needed to have "11 Silver Bullets flying to the ball."
Those Buckeyes led the Big Ten in scoring defense, something they have done nine more times since, and nearly carried a young offense to the national championship.
While the use of the name has at times been more prevalent some seasons than others, Ohio State safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Paul Haynes confirmed it is an important part of the coaching staff's regular message for its players.
"We always identify ourselves as the Silver Bullets," Haynes said this week. "That's the tradition, the pride, the dedication, and there's something to being that. So you can always talk about what it really means, just like the Blackshirts."
Haynes said the name has been even more prevalent this year with a pair of the original Silver Bullets – head coach Luke Fickell and linebackers coach Mike Vrabel – on the coaching staff.
Fickell, who played nose guard, had 50 tackles, including eight for loss, that season, but Vrabel was the bigger star. Eighteen of Vrabel's 56 tackles were for a loss, including nine sacks.
"We've always had that identity as a defense here," Fickell said when asked if besting the Blackshirts would be a stated goal this week. "Different places you go have difference identities. Does it come down to the Silver Bullets versus the Blackshirts? That's another one of those story lines."
Ohio State and Nebraska both bring proud defensive traditions into their game Saturday night in Lincoln, but the two units have had different kinds of seasons so far.
Despite replacing six starters and the ongoing absence of defensive end Nathan Williams, Ohio State finds itself again among the nation's best stop units from a statistical standpoint.
The Buckeyes are 11th in scoring defense (14.6 points per game allowed) and 13th in total yards (285.2).
The Cornhuskers, who returned seven starters this season but have had to deal with injuries to star defensive tackle Jared Crick and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, have had a rougher go of it. Nebraska has allowed 27.2 points per game (73rd nationally) and 377 yards (64th).
Hoping For Faster Start
Fickell had no problem acknowledging his team could use a better beginning than it has often had this season.
The Buckeyes have been outscored 36-24 in the first quarter but lead their five opponents 86-37 for the rest of the game.
In both of losses, the opposing team has drawn first blood, and the worst example came at Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 17.
The defense gave up a 54-yard run on its first play and did not really recover until the second quarter. By that time the Hurricanes had a 14-0 lead and tailback Lamar Miller had 114 yards rushing.
"Hopefully that's what you learn from," Fickell said. "That's what we talk about, starting fast. Going on the road is a different atmosphere. It is a little bit of a ball game, but that shouldn't change who we are or what we do. Sometimes you're a little bit more excited and it's the other way around: You're drained from emotion, too."
"We learned from it and hope to get better from it."
Excited For New Spectacle
With its fondness for scheduling one major out-of-conference opponent every year, the Ohio State coaching staff has often touted the chance to see some of the nation's best venue while hitting the recruiting trail.
This year Lincoln's Memorial Stadium offers a bonus new experience. "I think it's huge – It's huge for them and our entire school," Fickell said. "This is something new. New things are obviously exciting. I'm not sure our guys know a whole lot about that because it still comes down to what they do on the football field, but a new atmosphere and a new stadium, that's what college football is all about."
Center Mike Brewster said he has heard Nebraska home games are an exciting place to be.
"They're kind of like Columbus," Brewster said. "They're diehards for their football team. I've heard Lincoln is the most populated city in Nebraska on game day. It's going to be a lot of fun. I've heard their fans are great, very respectful, so it's going to be a special chance (to play)."
Fickell was asked if he thought the fans in the Sea of Red would be more fired up for this game than a typical contest because it is the first home Big Ten game in school history, but he said he wasn't sure if that was possible.
"From what I understand, they're pretty jacked up every game," Fickell said. "I don't know that it's going to be that much different, (but) a night game might throw something more into it. All those factors add in, but it still comes down to what their team does on the field and our team does on the field that's going to decide the game."
Many of the Ohio State coaches have not been there for a game, either, and are looking forward to seeing it first hand themselves.
"Actually, I was just thinking about that – ‘This will be a neat experience, another opportunity that you haven't had to this point in time,' " running backs coach Dick Tressel said. "That adds to the excitement. I think it obviously adds to the kids' excitement. Many of our kids haven't been anywhere, but even the veterans have never been to Nebraska, and that's neat."