Carrying a 14-7 lead into the second quarter with the ball on Ohio State’s 21, Nebraska was in prime position to put serious pressure on the Buckeyes in front of a record crowd. The Huskers settled for a field goal on the drive, Braxton Miller ran 70 yards to set up a touchdown, and the game turned around in a big way for Ohio State as they blitzed Nebraska 63-38 in front of the largest crowd--106,102--in Ohio Stadium history.
The first quarter saw Nebraska drop back into coverage and daring Miller to beat them through the air. Once Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes offense realized they didn’t have to throw to slice through the Blackshirts, it was game over as Miller and the Buckeyes ran for 368 yards and were mostly unstoppable from the second quarter on. Nebraska’s offense did themselves no favors with four turnovers, but it’s clear—the Huskers haven’t come as far on defense as we’d thought since a 36-30 loss to UCLA.
Stout defense ruled in the first quarter for the Huskers as they allowed the Buckeyes a mere 19 yards of total offense in the opening stanza. From the second quarter on, Ohio State racked up 476 yards and scored 56 points. A week after the comeback win over Wisconsin seemed eerily similar to Nebraska’s 2011 win over Ohio State, this loss seemed eerily similar to their 2011 loss to Wisconsin. Symmetry is a funny thing sometimes.
I predicted a 24-21 Nebraska win beforehand. Needless to say, I had not counted on the fact that a) there are four quarters in a football game and b), mobile quarterbacks have before and continue to be Nebraska’s kryptonite. While Ohio State’s defense was far from perfect, they looked quite extraordinary in comparison to the Blackshirts who couldn’t slow down Miller and Meyer’s high octane offense that seems to be light years ahead of the 2011 Ohio State version. Once again, turnovers, penalties, and missed tackles spelled doom for the Huskers.
Bradley Roby’s pick-six put Ohio State up early 7-0 as the Huskers were behind early thanks to their own doing. Despite settling down for about a quarter or so afterwards, Martinez threw another interception to Roby deep in Nebraska territory with the Huskers leading 17-14. Two plays later, Miller found tight end Jeff Heuerman for an 18-yard touchdown pass and Ohio State took the 21-17 lead. Nebraska would answer with a 4 play, 75 yard drive capped off by a 9-yard Martinez touchdown run to regain the lead at 24-21. From here on out however, it was all Buckeyes as Miller danced, ran, and helped Ohio State score twice in the final 3:11 of the first half as a shell-shocked Nebraska trailed 35-24 at halftime. Miller’s 31-yard touchdown run on fourth down proved to be the backbreaker.
It wasn’t immediately over for Nebraska though, as Martinez drove the Huskers 77 yards in 7 plays to bring the game back to 35-31 after a 3-yard touchdown pass to Ben Cotton. The Huskers had answered, but the Buckeyes answered right back with a 10 play, 75 yard drive of their own capped off by a Carlos Hyde touchdown to push the deficit back to 42-31. Three and out and a punt from Brett Maher that was returned for a 74-yard touchdown by Philly Brown proved to be the backbreaker with 5:50 left in the third quarter as Ohio State led 49-31. When you score a touchdown via your defense, your offense, and your special teams, things are generally going your way—and that was certainly the case for Ohio State.
Nebraska had their chance to answer as they drove to the Ohio State 31, but Martinez was picked for a third time by Orhian Johnson at the Buckeyes 10. Hyde returned the favor by fumbling deep in Nebraska territory, but the Huskers couldn’t capitalize as Ohio State went 62 yards in three plays to go up 56-31 with just over ten minutes to play. Martinez would eventually score from two yards out, but the game had long been decided. John Simon forced a Martinez fumble that was recovered at the Huskers’ 26 and Hyde rumbled 16 yards for his fourth touchdown on the day as the Buckeyes put up the final points in their 63-38 victory. So where to start after this one? We usually go to stats for the final answer—and believe me, we’ll do that—but how did it all go so horribly wrong for Nebraska?
Turnovers, penalties, and missed tackles. We’d heard all week in practice how it was imperative that the Huskers clean up in all three phases after their 30-27 win over Wisconsin a week before. Nebraska gifted the Badgers all but 14 of their 27 points in what would have otherwise been a Huskers blowout in Lincoln. The same miscues were made in Columbus however, and the Buckeyes made sure to put their foot down and stop any repeat of their trip to Memorial Stadium a year prior. Four turnovers, nine penalties for 75 yards, and a slew of missed tackles added up quickly in this one, and the end result wasn’t pretty. At one stretch from the 11:59 mark of the second quarter to the 13:35 mark of the fourth quarter, Ohio State ran 39 plays for 372 yards of offense and scored 35 points-in addition to a touchdown on a punt return. All three of these types of miscues allowed for such dominance.
The penalties put Nebraska in some bad spots. Four false starts on the night ultimately didn’t hurt the Huskers, but you could tell the timing on the offense was a little bit off. Both teams had those nine penalties for 75 yards, so consider this a wash. It wasn’t why Nebraska lost, but it will drive the coaching staff crazy, as it should. Missed tackles were crucial as Miller got out of trouble early and often to produce a dazzling 185 yards rushing plus a touchdown in addition to 127 yards and a touchdown passing. As Miller goes, the Buckeyes go, as he accounted for 63 percent of Ohio State’s total offense. A week after stellar play against Wisconsin, the Husker front seven did not play as well and were often run past counter plays which allowed Miller very wide cutback lanes to do his damage. Rod Smith’s 33-yard touchdown run with 10:27 left in the game saw at least four missed tackles to put the icing on the cake.
Let’s grade this one out…
Four turnovers, one of which directly led to seven points and two others which eventually led to 14 points and you have the recipe for disaster. Martinez did account for 58 percent of Nebraska’s offense, but three costly interceptions outweighed any of that. Kenny Bell had another good night with five catches for 133 yards, but no other receiver really made their mark. Burkhead eclipsed 100 yards again, but he left injured after a 25-yard run in the third quarter and never returned—a run in which he passed the 3,000 yard mark on his career—while Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard spelled the senior. The offensive line gained control for about a stretch of a quarter, but was dominated by Jonathan Hankins, John Simon, and the rest of the Buckeyes front seven for most of the game. Penalties and turnovers did the offense in Saturday night. We’ll be a bit generous here and give them a C-.
It’s a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly when breaking down the Blackshirts. They were lights out in the first quarter, but the final three quarters were horrendous. I’m not sure if Ohio State was playing opossum in the first quarter or if Nebraska switched their strategy and brought more pressure from the second quarter on, but the Buckeyes quickly figured things out. Eric Martin registered two sacks in the first half, but Miller was rarely contained and did as he pleased for the most part. Devin Smith was held without a catch, but the passing game saw tight ends Heuerman and Nick Vannett produce big plays that led to scores.
Ultimately, the rush defense was even worse than it was against UCLA. The Bruins racked up 344 yards back on September 8th as James Franklin ran for 217 against the Blackshirts. Miller went for 185 while Hyde pitched in 138 as the Buckeyes averaged another nightmare-ish 7.7 yards per carry. It is simply impossible to win games with a run defense that allows this kind of yardage. Nebraska somehow had a chance against an incomplete UCLA team; they had no chance against a more complete Ohio State team. First quarter withstanding, it’s a tough grade for the Blackshirts as they get an F.
The Special Teams
Tough night for the coverage units, as Ohio State’s Drew Basil put plenty of hang time on his kickoffs and pinned Nebraska behind their 20 for most of the night. While Brett Maher was pretty decent in his game, the punt return by Brown for a touchdown essentially put the game out of reach. Abdullah nearly broke a punt return for a touchdown after a 42-yard return, but it would serve as the lone bright spot on the evening. Ohio State got nothing in their kick return game, but they didn’t need anything as they went 75 yards three times after a touchback. Special teams get a D+.
What this means for Nebraska going forward is that they get a week to lick their wounds and regroup for the stretch run. Fortunately for the Huskers, Northwestern also lost Saturday and Michigan State nearly lost to Indiana, so the next two road contests look very winnable at this point. Iowa and Michigan are 1-0 and atop the Legends division, but the Wolverines come to Lincoln on October 27th and the Hawkeyes have stumbled to a 3-2 start overall and sport an offense which Nebraska is more equipped to stop. If Nebraska can knock off the Wildcats on October 20th in the Huskers next game, the season will likely come down to the showdown against the Wolverines and a trip to Michigan State a week later.
A first quarter which looked so promising turned into disaster again for the Huskers in a hostile road environment. Nebraska bounced back in 2011; will they do so again in 2012? My guess is a week to stew over it and prepare for a revenge game against Northwestern will do wonders for Nebraska with a huge stretch of games awaiting them. They’ll need to correct the same problems they faced after the loss to UCLA. Unfortunately, Northwestern will likely offer more resistance in two weeks than Arkansas State did for the Huskers in week three. And fortunately for Nebraska, they will not see a potential rematch with Ohio State in Indianapolis should they make the Big Ten Championship Game, or the Buckeyes at all until at least 2017.