Buckeyes Glean Positives from Bitter Setback
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Unofficially, it will go down as the biggest letdown in Ohio State history.
After building a 27-6 lead over Nebraska in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game at Memorial Stadium, the Buckeyes allowed the Cornhuskers to rattle off 28 straight points.
Everything seemed to come unraveled following Braxton Miller’s fumble at the OSU 24-yard line. The defense couldn’t stop Nebraska’s option attack and the offense couldn’t stay on the field long enough to give the defense a rest.
It was the largest comeback ever for the Cornhuskers, and the largest blown-lead on record for the Buckeyes, but there was a much better vibe after this loss than the one to Michigan State a week earlier.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Even though we lost, I think we got better. We were a 10-point underdog when we came in, and throughout the first half we were beating them pretty good,” said tight end Jake Stoneburner, who caught the first touchdown of the game.
“Even in the second half we came out and scored. The crowd was dead quiet. And then that fumble just started it all going down hill. I think we can learn from our mistakes, but I think we got better today.”
It is hard to argue with Stoneburner’s assessment of the first half. In fact, Ohio State really looked like the superior team for the better part of three quarters.
With Braxton Miller looking like a young Troy Smith, the offense found a rhythm it has lacked for much of this season. Miller seemed to have a new level of confidence about him as he ran for 79 yards and threw for 68 more in the first half against Nebraska.
“I thought he made a lot of big plays. I know he ran some draws that he made some really big plays. He made a big one at the end of the first half before we kicked the field goal and had a couple of other ones,” OSU Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman said.
“And on the play that he fumbled the ball, he had a big first down right there. That was a key play, but we turned it over though. But he threw some really good balls. He hit Philly (Brown) down the one time on the sideline. And on the first drive he did a really good job hitting some key passes.”
Having Philly back from an ankle injury that kept him out of the three previous games was a big lift for the Buckeyes, especially after they lost Verlon Reed to a season-ending knee injury last week.
The Buckeyes were also given a boost by the return of all-Big Ten left tackle Mike Adams, who helped Ohio State control the line of scrimmage for three quarters.
“When we were coming off the sidelines as an offensive line, we felt confident,” tight end Reid Fragel said.
“Our backs were feeling good. Honestly we thought we had control of the game up front. I think our backs did a great job of reading the holes backside.”
Sophomore Carlos Hyde made an outstanding cut to the backside on his 63-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Fragel and J.B. Shugarts sealed their men inside and Miller froze the corner just long enough to free Hyde for the big run.
“We were so excited to be out there, winning and making plays,” Stoneburner said.
“And having Braxton going out there and making plays, we felt like we were clicking on all cylinders. We were rolling. We were excited. It's kind of hard to believe that we actually lost that game.”
It is pretty hard to believe, especially considering how rarely Ohio State has blown a lead over the last decade. They gave up two big ones to Wisconsin (17) and Penn State (18) during Jim Tressel’s first season as head coach, but most of their losses since the 2001 season have come from falling behind early.
This is uncharted waters for the Buckeyes, who have lost two games in a row and three out of four since starting the season 2-0. This team hasn’t had three consecutive losses since the 2004 season, but they aren’t ready to throw in the towel.
“We're 3-3, but we still have a lot to play for,” said Stoneburner, who will serve as a game captain this week along with Michael Brewster and Andrew Sweat.
“We haven't started our division games yet. I'm pretty sure if we win out, who knows what can happen. It's going to be a tough road. We have to make sure we stay together, but anything's possible.”
If the Buckeyes can put together two halves like their first one against Nebraska, there isn’t a team in the Big Ten they can’t play with.
There have to be some question marks surrounding the defense after that horrendous fourth quarter, in which they allowed three touchdown drives of 70+ yards. It could spell trouble for the Buckeyes as they prepare to play a pair of undefeated divisional opponents with potent offenses, but they feel like theirs could be pretty dangerous as well.
“I think just taking what we did in the first half and using it to move forward, and then perfecting the things that we didn't do so well in the second half,” Fragel said.
“We've got some young guys obviously. When we perfect those mistakes, I think we can be a great team.”
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