COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mistakes that have led to an occasional sputtering of Nebraska's often-efficient offense piled up Saturday night, keeping the Huskers from fully settling into their comfort zone.
The issues — penalties, turnovers, mental mistakes — weren't out of the ordinary. Those kinds of things had been popping up occasionally in September.
And NU's players and coaches knew it. They emphasized the desire for precision all week. A detail-oriented approach that would presumably led to a clean and crisp performance.
There were a few highlights from Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead, Kenny Bell and the bunch, but the Husker offense ended Saturday with a largely inconsistent effort. And the disappointing effort left offensive coordinator Tim Beck searching for answers.
“It's been the story of the season. We've got to fix it,” Beck said.
How do the Huskers go about doing that?
“I don't know,” he said. “We'll see.”
They'll have a bye week to figure things out. And the self-evaluation will likely start with the first half of Saturday's loss.
The positives were obvious. Burkhead breaking free for a 73-yard run, helping to reverse momentum midway through the first quarter. Or Martinez holding his ground in the pocket and taking a hit before finding Bell downfield for a 74-yard gain.
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Nebraska had 241 yards at halftime — 146 yards on the ground, averaging 5.4 per carry. But the Huskers still trailed 35-24.
And the guys on offense felt responsible.
“We stopped ourselves,” right guard Spencer Long said. “We killed our rhythm with turnovers. We can't do that.”
Martinez never got comfortable, throwing a pick in the first quarter that was returned for a touchdown for the game's first points. His second interception was a forced throw on third down in the second quarter, trying to fit the football into a “tight window,” Beck said.
Ohio State's defensive line didn't make things any easier on Martinez, seeming to find its way into the backfield on a regular basis. Defensive end John Simon finished with five tackles for loss.
And as the game unfolded and the Buckeye lead began to balloon, the Huskers' rush attack became less of a factor and the offense became a tad more predictable. But even by the second quarter, Ohio State's defense was crowding the line of scrimmage. And its secondary, playing with physicality, was trying to take away as many short throws as it could.
That's why Martinez began the second half with three consecutive throws — all downfield. The first sailed over Jamal Turner's head. But the second was right on target to Bell for 28 yards. He followed that play by hitting Ameer Abdullah down the sideline for 20 more yards.
Martinez capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Ben Cotton, when the Husker QB patiently waited for the senior tight end to find room.
“He did some good things,” Beck said of Martinez.
But Martinez appeared to overdo it at times, according to Beck.
When he fumbled the football deep in his own territory in the second quarter (Cotton recovered), Martinez should have handed the ball off to Burkhead, Beck said.
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And midway through the third quarter, Martinez seemed to have Bell open in the flat as he rolled to his right on a first down play, but he decided not to deliver the pass — instead reversing field and trying to improvise. Linebacker Storm Klein tripped him up for a 12-yard loss.
“He's just trying to make some plays,” Beck said. “That's the thing. Guys that compete. But he's got to quit doing that. He's got to start playing within the confines of the system.”
Martinez finished the game with three interceptions and a lost fumble. He completed 15 of his 23 pass attempts, but rarely caught the OSU defense off-balance. He was 3-of-7 for 11 yards in third-down situations, forced to scramble on three other occasions when the pocket broke down or his receivers couldn't find enough space.
But his teammates didn't provide much help.
The Husker offense committed seven penalties before halftime. An illegal block on the first play. Then, four false starts (two on back-to-back plays in the second quarter) and a delay of game.
“We killed ourselves,” coach Bo Pelini said. “We've done it before on the road and that's the most disappointing thing.”
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>> Video: NU's Bo Pelini after the Nebraska-Ohio State game:
>> Video: Postgame analysis with Rich Kaipust:
>> Video: The Huskers arrive at Ohio Stadium: