Fourth-Quarter Collapse Caps Letdown at Nebraska
By Brandon Castel
LINCOLN, Neb. — This one was over, or at least it felt that way with Ohio State leading No. 14 Nebraska 27-6 with nine minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes had silenced the home crowd at Memorial Stadium with their unexpectedly innovative—at least for them—offense in the first half. They had the ball and they were one long drive away from sending even the most faithful Cornhuskers fans heading for the local watering hole.
OH-IO cheers were beginning to overtake the stadium as Ohio State fans expressed their first real flashes of euphoria in months.
And then it all fell apart.
Before Luke Fickell even knew what hit him, his team had lost the ball, its quarterback, the lead and eventually another big game.
Nebraska (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) rattled off 28-straight points in the final 24 minutes to shock the Buckeyes (3-3, 0-2) in a 34-27 win Saturday night.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a game that has changed like that that I have been involved with," Fickell said after his team’s second-straight loss.
“I’m sure there are a lot of lessons out there. We have to figure out what they are and grow from them. It’s a part of life.”
After showing little or no ingenuity on offense in a 10-7 home loss to Michigan State last week, the Buckeyes looked like an entirely different team in the first half against Nebraska.
“We were so excited to be out there winning, making plays and having Braxton (Miller) out there making plays,” tight end Jake Stoneburner said.
“We felt like we were clicking on all cylinders. We were rolling, we were excited. It’s hard to believe we actually lost that game.”
It took a lot of things to go wrong for the Buckeyes, who put up 246 yards of total offense in the first half as they took a 20-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Buckeyes opened the game in the pistol offense, and Nebraska was suddenly scrambling to recognize Ohio State’s misdirection in the backfield. The Buckeyes even stunned them with a screen pass to the tight end that went 32 yards for the first touchdown of the game.
“We’ve had that in for like three weeks now. I’ve been chomping at the bit for that to be called. We scored on our first team defense the first time we ran it a couple weeks ago,” said Stoneburner, who was on the receiving end.
“I knew they were going to call it when they got down there. We wanted to do it on first down and Mike Brewster made a very nice block on the edge to get me free.”
The Buckeyes scored again on a 63-yard run by tailback Carlos Hyde to go up 17-3 in the second quarter and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini looked like he had no answer against his alma Mater.
Pelini particularly had no answer against quarterback Braxton Miller, who passed and ran all over the Cornhuskers in the first half.
“He was making our guys miss. We didn’t tackle very well in the first half. It was one guy after another in the first half missing a tackle there, a missed assignment here,” he said.
“We had a lot of breakdowns, but we shored them up, we got better as the game went on.”
It helped that Miller was knocked out of the game with an apparent ankle injury late in the third quarter, but not before he coughed up the one big turnover Nebraska needed to swing the momentum.
“That was a game-changing play,” Pelini said of the strip by Lavonte David inside Ohio State territory.
“That was a huge play in the football game. He’s been doing it since he got here. He’s a heck of a football player.”
The Cornhuskers scored two plays later on an 18-yard run by quarterback Taylor Martinez and the comeback was on. They still trailed 27-13, but Ohio State lost Braxton Miller on the next drive and everything snowballed from there.
“I thought it helped us obviously that Miller went out, because I think their game plan was built around him.”
It certainly appeared to be.
A coaching staff that just 10 minutes earlier had looked in complete command of the game suddenly seemed lost. They turned the game over to backup Joe Bauserman, and the senior went 1-of-10 passing for 13 yards.
“You can’t put that all on Joe,” Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman said.
“That was a tough spot for him to come into.”
He did have a 14 point lead to work with, but it didn’t help that the coaches completely abandoned the running game and the defense couldn’t hold up against Nebraska’s suddenly-effective option game.
“I think at the end there in the fourth quarter we were probably losing a lot of battles,” Defensive Coordinator Jim Heacock said.
“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. 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.”
They did, as they gashed Ohio State’s tired defense for nearly 200 yards on the ground in the second half—including 144 in the fourth quarter alone.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” linebacker Andrew Sweat said.
“I don’t know what the magical answer is. We just didn’t get the job done.”
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