The lopsided 62-3 final score between Nebraska and Ohio State was certainly a disappointing result for the Huskers, but perhaps the worst part is the Nebraska defense had many opportunities to make it a competitive game and simply couldn’t finish plays.
The Buckeyes converted 11 of their 15 third downs and also converted their only fourth-down attempt. The Huskers had Ohio State backed up in third-and-long, held them to third and intermediate and faced third and short, but it didn’t matter – Ohio State got the yardage it needed almost every time.
Let’s take a closer look at the third down opportunities the Blackshirts had in the first half to see what went wrong.
First Quarter, Third-and-20
A delay of game pushes a third-and-15 back to a third and 20. Worst case scenario here, Ohio State should have to settle for an intermediate field goal.
Mike Weber Jr. motions into the backfield next to JT Barrett. Nebraska rushes the four linemen and tries to stunt Dedrick Young behind the tackles. The Buckeyes have three receivers on the left side, and the inside one, Dontre Wilson, is the one to watch. He runs a post while the dime back, Antonio Reed, back-pedals.
Not a single one of the linemen can get past his blocker, and Young, who is playing on a bad angle, appears to be running in quick sand and doesn’t present much of a threat. The Ohio State line maintains a pocket for almost 3 seconds, and Barrett hangs in there and makes the throw.
Weber runs out into the flat, and for some reason Nathan Gerry bites on him and abandon his deep position. Again, Ohio State needs 20 yards and Gerry is worried about a running back in the flat. He sees Barrett winding up and tries to reverse course, but it’s too late.
Reed is the one who ends up in coverage on Wilson, and he stays in his backpedal a step or two too long as Wilson breaks off the route and angles for the far sideline. Reed, who’s lateral quickness isn’t exactly his strength, tries to catch up but has no shot. Gerry almost gets a hand on the throw, but Barret lays it right over the top.
Wilson makes the catch just past the line to gain. It goes down as a 22-yard reception.
If Gerry had stayed home, the window Wilson ran into would not have been there. But alas, a great situation for the Huskers to keep it a one-score game turned into a first and goal.
First Quarter, Third-and-Goal from the 7-Yard Line
A couple of plays after the previous third down, the Blackshirts get one last chance to keep the Buckeyes out of the end zone. Nebraska only sends four, allowing the Buckeyes to double-team Kevin Maurice.
Defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun gets pushed back inside by the left tackle, allowing Barrett to escape the pocket and roll out.
Barrett gets out near the hash marks and lets the ball fly. It’s been six seconds since the snap.
Few secondaries are going to be able to hold up that long, and receiver Terry McLaurin cuts back into a window and makes the catch for a touchdown.
Nebraska had two chances to hold Ohio State to three points and couldn’t do it. They failed to get any pressure whatsoever, allowing Barrett to take his time and make his throws. Buckeyes lead 14-3.
Second Quarter, Third-and-2
This time its a third-and-short near midfield. Ohio State puts three receivers and a tight end on the right side, but the play is a run to the left. Nebraska sends both cornerback Joshua Kalu and linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey on a run blitz through the A gap. The four defensive linemen each occupy an offensive lineman, and the leftover – the left guard – chooses to block Kalu. That leaves Rose-Ivey unblocked.
Rose-Ivey meets Weber right at the line of scrimmage, but can’t get him down.
Weber keeps his legs churning, fighting to pick up the 2 yards he needs. Notice that defensive end Alex Davis allowed himself to be pushed inside, surrendering the edge.
Defensive tackle Carlos Davis dives on top of Weber to help finish the play, but the big back falls forward far enough to move the chains. Even worse, Rose-Ivey got banged up on the play.
Five plays later, Weber broke off a 23-yard run to put Ohio State up 21-3.
Second Quarter, Third-and-8
On third-and-8, Nebraska shows a three-man front and blitzes a linebacker between each linemen. However, all five basically run directly into blockers, and none of them won their one-on-one match-up.
Ohio State has a bunch set up on the right side with two receivers stacked to the left. Out of the bunch, the outside receiver runs a slant. The front receiver runs a corner route while the inside receiver runs a fin route (starts outside then cuts back inside).
The corner route doubles as a mesh route, screening Chris Jones off from his man, Parris Campbell. Barrett hits the wide open Campbell in stride with Jones still 5 yards away.
Jones closes the distance and reaches Campbell before the receiver reaches the line to gain, but he shrugs off Jones’ tackle attempt.
Campbell falls forward and the officials give him the spot.
Even with the complete lack of pressure and the great execution by Ohio State, Jones had a chance to at least force Urban Meyer to make a decision on fourth-and-short. But he couldn’t do it.
Second Quarter, Third-and-8
Two plays later, The Buckeyes faced third and 8 again, and this time Ohio State converts by penalty. Barrett throws short for a 4-yard completion, but Chris Jones (as you can see below) latches on to his receiver and never really lets go for an easy holding call.
Nebraska finally gets its first stop a few plays later as Binjimen Victor got open in the end zone but couldn’t secure the catch before stepping out of bounds. Ohio State kicked a field goal to make the score 24-3.
Second Quarter, Third-and-9
Tommy Armstrong Jr. was knocked out on the previous drive, and the Blackshirts had a chance to give back-up Ryker Fyfe and the offense great field position if they could get off the field.
Needing 9 yards, Ohio State runs a zone read. Barrett shows the hand-off to the back heading left, and defensive end Ross Dzuris gets sucked in, pursuing the back down the line. However, Barrett keeps the ball and runs right. The left guard pulled around to lead the way, picking off the blitzing Reed.
Because Dzuris chased after the back, Barrett has a hole a mile wide to run through.
Barrett sees a couple defensive backs breaking for him and cuts it to the outside, where he has a blocker.
Barrett runs through an arm tackle. Linebacker Marcus Newby is the nearest defender.
Newby does finally make the tackle, but Barrett picked up 20 yards and the opportunity to flip the field escaped the Huskers.
The game only snowballed from there and the Huskers had missed any chance to make a game of it.
While injuries ravaged the offense, Nebraska’s defense was mostly healthy and had several chances to make plays in the first half that could have changed the game.
“It was disappointing because, especially early, we got them in some third-and-long situations and really, if we could have gotten off the field in those situation, just the difference in the way we would have played and the way that game would have gone I think would have been drastically different … We’ve got to get off the field on third down,” linebackers coach Trent Bray said. “Any time you let a team extend drives, especially a team like Ohio State, it’s going to be a long day for you so we’ve got to get off the field on third down.
It was a long day indeed for the Blackshirts. With Armstrong’s status up in the air for Saturday’s game against Minnesota, the defense is going to have to step up and make the plays it failed to make against Ohio State.
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.