Silver Bullets Misfire

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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 10/10/2011 10:35 AM

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Silver Bullets Misfire During Fourth-Quarter Collapse  
By Brandon Castel

LINCOLN, Neb. — For years, they have been called the ‘Silver Bullets’ but all Ohio State’s defense was firing in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s loss to Nebraska was blanks.

They had held up for three quarters, but when the floodgates finally opened, there was nothing OSU Defensive Coordinator Jim Heacock could do to get them closed again.

“It seemed like the longer it went we just couldn't get them off the field,” he said after a 34-27 loss at Memorial Stadium.

“You have to find ways to get off the field and we've got to play better. We've got to coach better, we've got to play better and get the right combination of guys in there and keep battling.”

Ohio State held a 27-6 lead in the third quarter of Saturday’s game. They had completely shut down the Cornhuskers’ rushing attack to the tune of 88 yards on 29 carries through three quarters, but the wheels had already started to come off.

“It looked to me like we weren't running as well,” Heacock said.

“That could be mental, physical, I'm not sure what it was, but no excuses, to me they just took it to us that second half on both sides of the ball. We needed to step up; somebody needed to make a play. We needed a turnover, we needed to do something, and didn't get it done.”

What once looked like a sure victory for the Buckeyes suddenly became one of the biggest single-game collapses in school history. It felt like a matter of seconds, but it actually took the Buckeyes nearly 17 minutes to blow their 21-point lead at Nebraska.

Bo Pelini’s squad started their comeback with an 18-yard touchdown run by Taylor Martinez with just over seven minutes to play in the third quarter. They capped it with a 17-yard touchdown run by Rex Burkhead with a little more than five minutes to play in the game.

“It's a good offense and he's a good quarterback. The guy can run and does a good job, and I thought the offensive line did a good job,” Heacock said.

“I thought we held up well early and then as the game went on we got tired and it just didn't look like we were flying around and doing the things you have to do against an offensive team like that.”

The 21-point comeback, which actually equated to a 28-0 run by Nebraska to end the second-half, was the largest ever for the Cornhuskers, who were playing their first Big Ten conference game at Memorial Stadium.

It was also the largest an Ohio State team has surrendered since their 2001 loss at Penn State. The Buckeyes had pulled ahead 27-9 in the third quarter on a 45-yard interception return by cornerback Derek Ross, but the lead would not hold up in Jim Tressel’s first season as head coach.

Quarterback Zach Mills led the Nittany Lions back from the 18-point deficit, as his 14-yard pass to Eric McCoo capped a 20-0 run at Beaver Stadium.

The Buckeyes had just blown a 17-0 lead two weeks earlier at home against Wisconsin. A one-yard run by Steve Bellisari and a three-yard touchdown by Lydell Ross gave OSU a 17-point lead in the second quarter. From there, the Badgers rattled off 20 straight points, including a game-winning field goal in the final two minutes.

Saturday night’s game felt a lot like the Penn State game.

It started with Miller’s fumble, but it was the defense that gave Nebraska’s offense the confidence to forge that type of comeback.

“Anytime you have some adversity with a young group you have a little chance of that (doubt creeping in). That's when you have to step up,” Heacock said.

“It's a turnover. So what. You have sudden change and you've got to go out there on the field and at least make it rough on them and hold them to a field goal right there. If you get that done you're probably going to be all right, but it was too easy.”

It took Martinez only two plays to find the end zone, and by the start of the fourth quarter, Pelini realized Ohio State’s defense had no answer for their option game.

“I don't want to put the blame on anybody. I think that's something we've got to drill into them. Option football is option football,” Heacock said.

“You better have the dive, have the quarterback and have the pitch. If you don't you're going to be in trouble and they'll find you.”

That is exactly what they did, rushing for 144 of their 232 yards on the ground in the fourth quarter alone. Martinez (102) and Burkhead (119) became the first duo to rush for over 100 yards in the same game against Ohio State in 23 years.

The last pair to do it was Leroy Hoard (158) and Tony Boles (103 yards) in Michigan’s 34-31 win over the Buckeyes in Columbus on Nov. 19, 1988.

Heacock said his young defense lost discipline—either mentally, physically or both—but this collapse wasn’t all on his side of the ball. While Nebraska was making a comeback with their offense, the Buckeyes did absolutely nothing offensively to help prevent it.

Before the ‘Huskers scored the game-tying touchdown in the fourth-quarter, Ohio State had a three-and-out that lasted a total of 1:01. Follow the ensuing touchdown by Nebraska they had a three-play drive lasting exactly one minute that ended with an interception by Joe Bauserman.

And after Nebraska took the lead on their next touchdown, the Buckeyes once again went three-and-out on a drive that lasted a total of 1:01.

By the time Ohio State’s defense took the field on what would be the final drive of the game, they had been on the field for all but three minutes of the fourth quarter.


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