In a 41-point blowout, it’s difficult to single out any one play as being more significant than the rest. Nebraska was outclassed by No. 5 Ohio State in every phase of the game from the opening kickoff to the final whistle.
However, there’s one play that I think hurt more than the rest. After falling behind 14-0, Nebraska finally seemed to find something offensively when Scott Frost went outside of his normal playbook and turned back the clock, inserting a “fullback” and marching down the field.
The success was short-lived, however. A poorly thrown-ball and a bit of bad luck wiped away Nebraska’s best scoring opportunity and gave the ball right back to the Buckeyes.
Adrian Martinez’s second interception is this week’s Play of the Game.
Ohio State picked off Martinez on Nebraska’s first drive and forced a three-and-out covering 2 yards on its second. On drive No. 3, Scott Frost gave the hungry Nebraska fans a bit of red meat by lining up in the flex bone. The handoff to Dedrick Mills only gained 2 yards, but that play was only the beginning.
On second down, Nebraska lined up with four receivers to the right including Mills and threw to the back with three blockers ahead of him for a gain of 10. After that, Nebraska lined up in I-formation on four of its next five plays, gaining 37 yards on those plays. Nebraska had the Ohio State defense baffled to the point where Ryan Day called a timeout to talk things over.
Nebraska didn’t go back to the I-formation after the break, however. The Huskers decided to take a shot. Martinez dropped back in the Shotgun with a back to his right and Robinson ahead of him and to the left.
Nebraska had one drive cover more than 31 yards in that first half, and this is how it ended. pic.twitter.com/4D3C42Uf6G
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) September 29, 2019
After the snap, Martinez faked the handoff as Robinson worked his way up and across the field. Right tackle Matt Farniok got pushed back into Martinez’s lap. It’s hard to know how much that impacted the throw, but Martinez also had space to his left if he had felt that pressure sooner.
Martinez tried to hit Robinson, laying the ball over the linebackers and in front of the deep defensive backs. But like we’ve seen so many times throughout his young career, the throw was high and long. Robinson got a hand on it but only managed to tip it forward, right into the hands of cornerback Jeff Okudah who had fallen down.
All that old school, feel-good offense suddenly was for naught. Thirteen plays and 90 yards later, Ohio State was in the end zone. Again. Instead of 14-7, or even 14-3, it was 21-0.
“I wouldn’t say it affected the rest of the game, but it definitely didn’t help us there,” Martinez said. “I think we definitely had them on their heels on that drive. Turning over the ball regardless is going to kill a drive, kill the spirit a little bit and that’s on me. I threw the interception and it’s something I need to get better at and take better care of the football.”
Frost pointed to the protection and a bit of bad luck as the cause of the interception, and his point is valid, but as Martinez said, he threw the interception. He’s also thrown incompletions or interceptions on a lot of very similar throws.
“That drive, we kind of went back to some old school Nebraska stuff and it worked and we drove it down the field, had an opportunity on a pass play and if we’d given the quarterback a little more time it probably would’ve been a completion and a touchdown,” Frost said. “He was hurried a little and had to float it and we got a bad break.”
On the second play of Nebraska’s ensuing drive, Ohio State intercepted another Martinez throw. Nebraska didn’t pass the ball again until its last offensive snap of the half, which resulted in an incompletion on third and 7 and another punt.
Martinez completed more passes to Buckeyes than Huskers in the first half. He was 2-of-8 for 10 yards and three interceptions.
To have any kind of chance against Ohio State, Nebraska needed Martinez to be special. Instead, he had the worst passing game of his career while Justin Fields put on a show for Ohio State.
To make it a competitive game, Nebraska couldn’t afford to turn the ball over. Martinez threw three interceptions in the first half.
That’s not going to get it done.
“We turned over the ball,” Martinez said about the difference between this year’s game against Ohio State and last year’s. “We didn’t execute nearly as well, and I don’t think I played as well either, and I’m going to shoulder a lot of that responsibility for the offensive side of the ball and putting the defense in bad situations. Again, that’s on me and something I’m going to continue to work on and get better at.”
This loss certainly isn’t all on Martinez. Nebraska got beat in every phase of the game. But fair or not, the expectations are a bit higher for Martinez than everyone else on the roster. Nebraska can’t win with its quarterback playing the way he did on Saturday.
That’s why this week’s Play of the Game is Adrian Martinez’s second interception.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.