Like you, I was making like a Dr. Pepper commercial and havingarealgoodtime for more than half a football game for the first time since the Buckeyes kicked Akron all over the field on opening day. The offense and defense were dominating the line of scrimmage, the Huskers had no answers and the game was going better than any of us could have expected. Then that happened. One loose pebble knocked another loose, and then another and that’s how avalanches happen. This avalanche resulted in a 34-27 loss to Nebraska in a game that Ohio State held a 21-point second-half lead.
It was a tremendous glimpse at just how good this team is capable of being when everything is properly aligned. It was also a glaring example of how fragile the club is and how badly it needs leadership, both on and off the field. We even learned that Carlos Hyde is fast. However, there were a few things this week that led to an epic meltdown over a quarter and a half of football, allowing Nebraska to win a game it had no business winning. Here they are in all of their glory.
The Strip: Ohio State was absolutely rolling. After a seven-play drive culminated in a Carlos Hyde touchdown to put the Buckeyes up three scores, 27-6, the defense forced yet another three-and-out from Taylor Martinez and company. Brent Maher skied a 50-yard punt that pinned OSU at its own 12-yard-line and, despite the poor field position, things were looking great. Hyde carried twice for five yards and then Miller scurried up the middle for an apparent first down. However, by the time he hit the ground, Miller no longer had the ball. Lavonte David ripped it out as the players tumbled in midair and Nebraska suddenly had the ball at the OSU 24. I was loathe to do it at the time, but I made a mental note that if something were to happen to threaten Ohio State’s apparent win, this would be the point where things started to unravel. Well…
Had Ohio State’s defense held, the collapse may have been averted. Nebraska needed help beyond one turnover to get back into the game. The Huskers needed two things to mount a comeback: belief that they could and doubt on Ohio State’s part. As I mentioned above, the Buckeyes are a young and fragile team. Once doubt sets in it affects everything. A stop and a forced field goal would have squashed that doubt before it crept in. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. It took only two plays for Martinez to score on an 18-yard run that started with play fake that seemed to take five minutes. Doubt was now in the minds on the Ohio State sideline and belief suddenly materialized for what had been a frustrated bunch of Huskers. Still, a nice drive would kill both of those things, probably once and for all. Which leads us to…
The Injury: The Buckeyes started their next drive at their own 23 and quickly picked up a first down on two running plays. The ubiquitous false start forced Ohio State into a 1st-and-15 situation, but all seemed ok when Jordan Hall shed several tacklers for a 9-yard gain to set up a manageable second down. On the next play, disaster struck when Miller rolled right on what appeared to be a designed run and injured his ankle. Since the Colorado game I have been worried about Braxton’s durability if the coaches continued to call his number in the run game and finally it bit the Buckeyes. Joe Bauserman strolled onto the field to the relief of no one wearing scarlet and gray, and DERPed the first of nine horrible passes he would throw on the night. The first pebble in the avalanche was Miller’s fumble, but the injury to the OSU starter sent a few more rocks bouncing down the mountainside.
The Decision: (First of all, my apologies to Cavs fans for that header.) Ohio State’s defense was almost given a gift after Buchanan punted, when Jamal Turner lost the football. Unfortunately, Turner fell on it before a Buckeye could get that deep into the backfield and Nebraska kept possession, albeit with a seven-yard loss. Martinez ran for eight on second down and hit Kyler Reed for a big first down conversion. A few plays later, Martinez executed a well-timed and beautiful play fake that froze the OSU secondary and lofted a touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa. The defense was on its heels, full of doubt and not sure how to fix it. Still, Ohio State led 27-20 and there was still time to restore order and confidence with a nice scoring drive. Carlos Hyde did his part with a few decent runs and Bauserman completed an actual pass to Philly Brown for 13 yards. Nebraska helped with a personal foul penalty and suddenly the Buckeyes were at the Huskers’ 29 with a chance to stop the bleeding and restore a two-score advantage. When Hyde lost three yards on first down, Bollman dialed up a passing game that had been nonexistent since Miller was helped off the field. Two incompletions later, the ball was on the 32 and Ohio State lined up to punt, rather than try a long field goal to go up by two scores. The Buckeyes took a delay of game penalty just for good measure. Nebraska went on a 91-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. The collapse was complete and the lead was blown, but the game wasn’t over. Yet.
The Armpunt: The entire game I wanted Ohio State to exploit the suspect Nebraska secondary the way Wisconsin had the week before. I waited for a receiver to break open behind the secondary and a long pass to be thrown. It finally happened. Philly Brown got behind the Huskers and Bauserman launched a pass into the rainy Lincoln night. With the wind in his face, I figured there would be a chance that this ball might actually not be overthrown. It wasn’t. Unfortunately it was underthrown by a yard. One. Stinking. Yard. That yard turned a would-be Brown touchdown into a Stanley Jean-Baptiste interception. Just. One. Yard. That’s all the further that ball had to travel to restore Ohio State’s lead and put the pressure back on Nebraska. Unfortunately, the fragile defense continued to make mistakes all over the field—missed tackles, bad angles to the point of attack, slow and unsure reactions to play fakes and an almost pathological refusal to shed blocks. And then there was the 15-yard penalty on C.J. Barnett, to boot. The only player on defense who seemed capable of escaping blockers in the fourth quarter was John Simon, and so Nebraska repeatedly held him in plain view of everyone. But nothing was called and Rex Burkhead gave the Huskers an insurmountable 7-point lead.* Ohio State had one last possession which consisted of a sack, two incompletions and a punt. It’s bad enough when you’ve got Bauserman under center, but replays showed that no Ohio State receiver was open. Still, perhaps it’s better to risk an interception and let a covered receiver try to make a play than to throw the ball into the stands.
Other random thoughts/observations:
- You have to give credit to Nebraska’s coaching staff. The Huskers could not have gashed Ohio State’s defense so badly without doing some things well. Martinez held his play fakes longer to freeze the OSU linebackers and defensive backs. Nebraska’s wide receivers held their blocks longer. The Huskers got to the perimeter. Even the play-action pass that went for a touchdown was brilliantly timed and well executed. Kudos to their staff.
- It is troublesome that Ohio State’s receivers continue to struggle so badly at creating separation, especially at key moments in the game. I’m not sure they’re being used correctly, but inexperience is also a factor.
- Getting a delay-of-game penalty before the first offensive snap of the game is inexcusable.
- Bauserman needs to lose a few snaps to Kenny Guiton this week so that the coaches at least have the option of yanking him if Miller goes down and Joe is (again) ineffective. I’m not convinced that Guiton is any better throwing the football, because I don’t believe coaches intentionally choose to play inferior players, however Kenny G has the wheels to provide that second dimension that keeps defenses honest.
- The throwback screen to Stoneburner was a thing of beauty. Where has that been hiding?
- I’ll say it again. Where are the gadget plays? This is college football. Every team runs trick plays. Except Ohio State. Even Jim Tressel ran them.
*Any lead on Ohio State is insurmountable when Bauserman’s at the helm.