Through 26 minutes of game time, Nebraska had played Ohio State to a 14-all draw. Things quickly spiraled out of control from there, however, as the Buckeyes took a 10-point lead into halftime then blew the game wide open early in the third quarter.
After an opening-drive touchdown by Justin Fields, Nebraska had a chance to hang around and keep it a game if they could answer. Nebraska strung together six successful plays, and then the Play of the Game happened put the final dagger in Nebraska’s coffin.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 24, 2020
Martinez carried the ball on the previous play for a 7-yard gain, and he kept it again on second and 3, faking the handoff to Dedrick Mills then trying to bounce it outside himself. Veteran defensive end Jonathan Cooper quickly recognized what was happening, though, and jumped forward to force Martinez back inside.
As Martinez planted his foot and tried to cut back past Cooper, the big defensive end reached out and got a piece of his arm, tugging on him. Martinez broke free but in the process the ball shifted in his grasp and he lost it, knocking the ball forward. Pete Warner tackled Martinez, then cornerback Sevyn Banks scooped the ball up and ran it back 55 yards for the touchdown.
The defensive score capped a 24-0 run and all but ended Nebraska’s chances of making it a game down the stretch.
“When we’re playing really good teams like we will throughout the Big Ten, we have to limit our errors,” Martinez said. “I thought we shot ourselves in the foot there more than a few times. I can’t turn over the football and we have to continue to execute at a high level. I think we did that at some times today, and then other times we didn’t do it as well as we should have.”
Late in the first half, the Nebraska defense stiffened up in the red zone and held Ohio State to a field goal to make it 17-14 with 3:12 to go. With Ohio State getting the ball first to start the second half, Nebraska needed a good drive.
Instead, they came out and failed to get a snap off on first down before the play clock expired; back up 5 yards. On first and 15, Luke McCaffrey got stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain. On second down, Martinez got sacked for a loss of 5. On third down, Martinez got tackled in the backfield again for another loss of 5 and Ohio State called a timeout. The Huskers chewed up just 47 seconds and lost 20 yards; so much for a good drive.
The Huskers got flagged for a face mask on the punt, giving the Buckeyes the ball at the Nebraska 46 with 2:25 to go. Ohio State marched right down the field and scored in 75 seconds to make it 24-14.
Nebraska ran out the clock and went back to the locker room with a 10-point deficit, then when play resumed Ohio State put together an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by a 17-yard scramble into the end zone by Justin Fields.
“At the end of the second quarter, we got the ball back down 17-14 and the chance to go take the lead before half and kind of shot ourselves in the foot with a delay of game penalty — that’s my fault — and a holding penalty, or I can’t remember what happened next, and they scored quick before half and then scored coming to of half and that’s the game,” Coach Scott Frost said.
With Ohio State leading 45-17 early in the fourth, Frost gave McCaffrey a chance to to run the offense a bit, and McCaffrey fumbled the ball away on a run, halting another promising drive.
“I thought both played well,” Frost said about his quarterbacks. “Can’t turn the ball over. If we’re going to run our quarterbacks like we do then they need to take care of the football just like everybody else and we’ll certainly address that this week.”
Nebraska showed progress from last season with a lot of positive plays on both sides of the ball, but they still made too many mistakes and the Buckeyes made them pay for all of them. In addition to the two turnovers, the Huskers also had eight penalties for 85 yards and they gave up two fourth-down conversions and a handful of third-and-longs.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Frost said. “Unfortunately, some of the things that led to the game getting out of hand were self-inflicted things that we can fix. We had too many penalties, they didn’t have hardly anyway. We turned the ball over a couple times with the quarterback running. We got them in a couple second-and-really-longs and gave up first downs on third-and-14s; we can fix a lot of those things as a group. We hung in with them a lot better than we did last year physically and I give a to of credit to them, that’s a really good team. But I was proud of how our kids fought.”
Nebraska certainly fought, but a fighter is going to have a tough time winning when he catches himself in the face a couple of times while trying to trade blows and that’s what Nebraska did on Saturday.
That’s why Adrian Martinez’s fumble and Ohio State’s 55-yard scoop-and-score is this week’s Play of the Game.