Photo Credit: Ohio State Athletics

Middle Meltdown Leads to Season-Opening Loss for Nebraska to Ohio State, 52-17

October 24, 2020

With 8:24 to play in the second quarter, the game was tied at 14-all.

With 8:02 to play in the third quarter, No. 5 Ohio State had a 38-14 lead.

It’s been the middle third of a football game that has crushed Nebraska for two years under Scott Frost, and the Huskers followed the same script again to open the 2020 season in Columbus. Ohio State walked away with a 52-17 win over Nebraska.

Nebraska will be upset with officiating, for sure. The Huskers lost defensive backs Cam Taylor-Britt and then Deontai Williams to questionable targeting calls in the second half—meaning they will miss the first half of next week’s game against Wisconsin—and were flagged eight times for 90 yards while the Buckeyes were flagged only thrice for 14 yards.

But Nebraska imploded late in the first half after a lightning-fast start to the game. (Nebraska took the ball to begin the game, and ran down the field on a four-play, 75-yard scoring drive.)

A third-and-1 stuff of Ohio State at Nebraska’s 13 forced a Buckeye field goal with 3:12 to play in the first half. It gave the home side a three-point lead, but it had to have felt like a win for the Husker defense; it was an 11-play, 71-yard drive that only ended with three points.

But Nebraska began its ensuing offensive possession with a delay of game.

Then a run for no gain.

Then a sack.

Then a third-down loss of five yards.

Nebraska punted away after using only 47 seconds of game clock and Ohio State marched to a touchdown five plays later. The Buckeyes got the ball to start the second half and walked down the field. A second-and-3 run from quarterback Adrian Martinez on the next possession ended in a scoop-and-score fumble for Ohio State.

Just like that.

Nebraska’s margin for error, it seems, remains slim.

The Huskers were missing Omar Manning at wideout, a presumed started. Wan’Dale Robinson caught six balls for 49 yards. Walk-on grad transfer Levi Falck caught a ball for eight yards. No other receiver made an impact until freshman Alante Brown made a catch in garbage time. And Nebraska looked reticent throughout to try anyone down the field.

The Huskers were also missing inside linebacker Luke Reimer, who coaches have said is one of their most athletic players. Crossing patterns for the Buckeye passing game picked apart Nebraska, as was the case throughout much of last year. The secondary did not help a lick, often playing 10 yards off receivers at the snap of the ball. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields completed 20 of his 21 passes for 276 yards and two scores.

Nebraska turned it over twice. It gave up two fourth-down conversions. But, really, the Huskers have things to feel good about coming out of the game.

NU averaged 6.9 yards per run (adjusted for sacks) against the Buckeyes.

Backup quarterback Luke McCaffrey surprisingly led Nebraska in rushing, with nine carries for 87 yards. The Huskers used him as a halfback while lining Martinez up under center. Martinez carried it 12 times for 77 yards and a score, but he found little daylight through the air. He was 12-for-15, but only for 105 yards.

Dedrick Mills, after an offseason during which Nebraska said he’d be a bell cow running back, carried it 10 times for 33 yards.

For stretches, the offensive line for Nebraska opened up massive running lanes. Redshirt freshman Bryce Benhart made his debut at right tackle and held up nicely. The defensive line performed admirably early as well.

Redshirt freshman Ty Robinson earned a start and sophomore Casey Rogers played extensively on a rebuilt defensive line, and Nebraska held its own at times.

But the Buckeyes have too much, and Nebraska is still not there. Ohio State had to work for this one much harder than it did a year ago in Lincoln, that much is true, but Nebraska probably won’t take solace in that.

The Huskers (0-1) host Wisconsin (1-0) for a 2:30 p.m. kick next week on FS1.

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