Normally, this story gets published with three takeaways from the game that was. We’re changing it this week.
Because in Nebraska’s 48-7 loss to No. 5 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten), there’s only really one take that matters.
A Ways Off
This was written at halftime.
Not because of a deadline. Because whatever happened in the second half didn’t matter. When Husker head coach Scott Frost took the stage on the set of ESPN’s College GameDay some 11ish hours earlier, with his home stadium standing in the background, he called this a measuring stick kind of game.
"We get to go play a great team today, and we get to measure ourselves," he said. "It's not going to be very long before people are going to be worried about us. We get a chance today to prove it.”
The only thing Nebraska proved in the first half was that it will in fact be a long time before the people who matter — read: teams like Ohio State, who looks like a strong contender for the mantle of “Best team in the country” — will worry about Nebraska.
The Buckeyes unleashed an absolute dismantling in the first half. Frost said this past Thursday fast starts are important against this team in particular, because the defense gets a stop and 7-0 quickly turns into 14-0 and then the defense gets another stop and it turns into 24-0 real quick. Well Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez had more completions to Ohio State (three) than Nebraska (two) on his first four drives and the Buckeyes turned 14-0 into 24-0 in something like 11 minutes of game clock.
The talent disparity manifested itself on the Husker offensive line so plainly Dwyane Wade’s infant child could distinguish between the future NFL guys and the others from her place on the sideline.
When Nebraska left right tackle Matt Farniok on an island to stop Chase Young, a future top-five NFL draft pick, things ended badly. When Nebraska devoted extra attention to Young, things ended badly elsewhere. The Buckeye defensive line held NU to 2.7 yards per play in the first half.
But the talent thing wasn’t the only problem in this game, I don’t think. Nebraska threw a look at the Buckeyes on its third drive that no one was prepared for. It began in the flexbone, with a handoff to Dedrick Mills. The bulk of the drive featured I-formation fullback gives and option keepers to the edge. Ohio State called timeout near midfield to catch its bearings on defense and Memorial Stadium got back some of the buzz it had in droves before kick-off. Nebraska had moved it 49 yards.
It was 14-0 at that point. A Nebraska touchdown makes things feel better.
Nebraska came out and went play-action, with Martinez looking deep over the middle of the field to Wan’Dale Robinson. The right play-call, the right time. Robinson was open. The right ball and he may have scored. Instead, Martinez — as has been the case (excruciatingly) all season — couldn’t hit that touch pass over the shoulder. Robinson tried to tip the overthrow to himself and Jeff Okudah, another future first-round draft pick for OSU in the secondary, got his second interception of the day from his back.
That was the main problem.
Nebraska’s front seven couldn’t set the edge. Ohio State hit for 8.4 yards per play and 7.9 on the ground.
Nebraska’s secondary was routinely fooled on double-moves. (Ohio State’s DBs were playing the same brand of overplaying and Nebraska didn’t make it pay.) Fields had five explosive pass plays in the first half.
Nebraska’s defense kept missing open-field tackles one-on-one.
Even Nebraska’s special teams were outplayed. It’s hard to ignore the contrast between Nebraska getting a flag any time it tried to return a kick and Ohio State’s kicker just lasering PAT after PAT 20 yards up and right down the middle.
All the talent in the world means nothing when you don’t execute your assignments properly.
Ohio State has all the talent in the world, and it out-executed Nebraska to death. Nebraska is clearly not talented enough to hang, but three interceptions on your opening four drives will kill even the best of teams.
The program still has juice, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Facility renovations will help. This is Frost’s 17th game as the head coach. Martinez is still the guy. Robinson is certainly a guy to build around, too.
The Buckeyes just served as a titanium wall the Kool-Aid man couldn’t break through, and it sent the worst message possible to a national TV audience and a stadium full of high-profile recruits.
There are still quite a few rungs on the ladder.
For the Hate-Reading Crowd
Since this is a full-game kind of piece, here are a few notes on the full 60 minutes.
>> Final stats, though they are not pretty.
FINAL | No. 5 Ohio State 48, #Huskers 7
Buckeyes run for 368 yards. Huskers total 231. pic.twitter.com/KJxMKR8zjz
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) September 29, 2019
>> Nebraska showed some fight in the second half. The defense forced a field goal after the Buckeyes had the ball first-and-10 from Nebraska's 11. Jeramiah Stovall absolutely leveled a Buckeye return man on a kickoff return that never was (offside). Martinez went for 56 yards on a keeper down the right sideline and Dedrick Mills punched it in from nine yards out two plays later to prevent the shutout. It didn't look like quit. That's commendable because it was 38-0 at half.
>> Nebraska found something with the I-formation option stuff. Mills at fullback (a position he can play) with Robinson dotting the I is something the Huskers should look at more moving forward. It was pretty effective.
>> Nebraska drops to 3-2 on the season with the loss and 1-1 in Big Ten play. It will be back home again next week for a 3 p.m. CT kick against Northwestern (1-3, 0-2 Big Ten).
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.