Ohio State at Nebraska
One ankle turn later, and all of a sudden, Ohio State's defense took the rest of the night off.
The Buckeyes were rolling along, looking as strong and as good as they have all year thanks to freshman quarterback Braxton Miller's running – taking off for 91 yards on ten carries – while the Nebraska offense was being slowed down to a crawl. Up 27-6 in the third quarter, and with a supposedly good defense built to eat one-dimensional attacks for breakfast, Ohio State had things in hand. After all, in Nebraska's long and glorious history it had never come back from 21 down to win a game, mostly because it rarely got down by three touchdowns.
Miller turned an ankle, Joe Bauserman came in, and Nebraska's offense suddenly worked.
Bauserman was awful, completing just 1-of-10 passes for 13 yards with a pick, but it's not like he got any help whatsoever. The running game went bye-bye, the coaching staff inexplicably decided to try taking shots down the field rather than bleed the clock, and the defense flat-out stopped. It stopped tackling, it stopped swarming around the ball, and it stopped taking the right angles.
Nebraska isn't built to make comebacks of any kind. Taylor Martinez had a terrific game throwing the ball, connecting on 16-of-22 passes for 191 yards and two scores - including 36-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa that eerily resembled the Russell Wilson-to-Nick Toon scoring play Wisconsin hit the Huskers with last week - but the offense inexplicably made its come back with the running game and a little dump-off pass to Rex Burkhead for a 30-yard score.
Nebraska started to block like it knew what it was doing. It got big hits on Buckeye defenders that weren't there in the first half, and Martinez and Burkhead ran decisively rather than wait for something to happen. In just over 22 minutes, Ohio State gave up 28 unanswered points, and that's the team's biggest issue going forward; the defense wasn't supposed to be a problem.
The offense didn't help the cause in any way when Bauserman was in, but it shouldn't have mattered. Ohio State's defense is full of talent and full of four and five star recruits, and not having DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, and late in the game, Braxton Miller, shouldn't have mattered.
With at trip to Illinois and a date against Wisconsin up next, it could be a long few weeks for the Buckeyes after giving away a big road game in a blink of an eye.
In the words of Moe Tilden, "You blew it!"
To take nothing away from Nebraska, which never quit on this game, that was an epic gag on the part of Ohio State. In a much-needed stem-the-tide type effort in Lincoln, the Buckeyes were in complete control of the Huskers, building a comfortable three-touchdown margin early in the second half. And then the wheels came off. The offense did a disappearing act, with QB Joe Bauserman becoming the face of the collapse, and the defense, so stout in the first 30 minutes, just ran out of gas. Big Red capitalized on its fading visitor, scoring four unanswered touchdowns in an outcome that could go down as a crossroads moment for both participants.
Obviously, after getting roughed up by Wisconsin a week ago, it was a game that Nebraska had to have, especially with fellow Legends Division members Michigan and Michigan State playing so well. For Ohio State, this is the kind of game that could get the program and the administration thinking with one foot in 2011 and the other in 2012 over the next couple of months. The Buckeyes are spinning their wheels this fall, dropping three of the last four, so why not start building toward the future around some of the school's younger kids? Poor Luke Fickell. This was the type of setting that could have boosted the stock of the interim head coach. Now, as his Buckeyes are rapidly fading, it's looking more and more likely that the school will go big-game hunting to locate a long-term successor to Jim Tressel.
By Matt Zemek
Yes, Joe Bauserman is a low-quality Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback, with a completion percentage buried well under 20 percent and a baffling penchant for gunning every throw eight yards out of bounds. Yes, college football is fueled by emotions, meaning that the loss of an important player – Braxton Miller – will affect a team's state of mind. Yes, the other team has to participate in a reversal of fortune; the Nebraska Cornhuskers were resilient enough and skilled enough to maximize a turning-point moment, to seize an opening with supreme resourcefulness.
Yet, with all of that having been said, there's precious little excuse for Ohio State's collapse on Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The weather was miserable, conducive to a run-first offense and not a quick-hitting aerial attack. Nebraska never established a particularly formidable vertical passing game; the Huskers rarely pushed the ball more than 12 to 15 yards downfield throughout their second-half surge. These were not the kinds of conditions – in the sky or in the Nebraska playbook – which should have led to a spectacular implosion, a 28-point collapse that made Texas A&M take notice. Yet, it happened. The strong leg, the pillar, of the Buckeye program was the unit that fell apart as the second half unfolded. Against Michigan State, the burden of defeat fell entirely on the OSU offense; this past night in Cornhusker Country, the defense bore most of the blame for a disastrous 180-degree turn.
It's true that Ohio State's sideline took great confidence from Miller, an exciting freshman who affirmed his identity as the future of the Buckeye program, but that's no reason to completely fold the tent after one man went down with an injury. Miller didn't play defense. Miller didn't hound Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez into multiple turnovers. Miller didn't smother the Nebraska offense or create the notion that the Buckeyes' 27-6 lead felt more like a 42-point bulge. It was Ohio State's defense which set the tone in the first half; it was the Buckeyes' old standby, the linchpin of their TresselBall successes, which silenced a Memorial Stadium crowd and put Nebraska on the precipice of a ruinous loss, the kind of loss that would have deepened a crisis of confidence throughout the Husker Nation.
Yes, Ohio State did nothing on offense after scoring 27 points. However, 27 points should have been more than enough to beat Nebraska. A 21-point lead against a run-first opponent in inclement weather? For Ohio State, that should be a layup. Full credit for Nebraska to get off the deck, especially in the case of Martinez, who easily could have given up on this game; however, Ohio State should not give up 21-point leads to running teams. The Buckeyes are full of holes and deficiencies on offense; they're not supposed to give away the store on the defensive side of the ball.
Nebraska was about to lose hold of its season, while Ohio State was about to regain belief in itself. Now, the trajectories of these two teams' journeys will prove to be different. This game didn't have a BCS bowl bid or a conference lead hanging in the balance, but it will still cast a long and interesting shadow over the first year of divisional Big Ten football.