LINCOLN — The pauses were as long as the unhurried time Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields got to stand in the pocket picking apart Nebraska’s defense. As long as those three hours must have seemed to Husker football players as they endured a 48-7 thumping from the Buckeyes.
“They’re No. 5 for a reason,” NU nose tackle Darrion Daniels said. “I think we’re a good team, too. I know we’re a good team, too.”
“This game’s not going to define this team,” said quarterback Adrian Martinez, the once-Heisman Trophy candidate who threw for 47 yards and three interceptions. “It won’t.”
“I just want to watch film,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “That’s it.”
He, his teammates and his coaches may be alone in that interest. The session will not be kind, even if it will be familiar to the last time Ohio State stomped through here, in 2017, and delivered a 56-14 beating so complete that it sealed the fate of a former coach and hastened the return of Scott Frost.
Nebraska trailed 35-0 at halftime in 2017. Saturday, it was a 38-0 spread. OSU outgained NU by 240 yards in 2017. Saturday, it was 349 yards. Ohio State converted 10 of 13 third downs in 2017, and exactly 10 of 13 again in 2019.
Those Buckeyes won the Big Ten title. These might, too.
Those Huskers finished 4-8. These Huskers? Moving on. Sticking together.
“It doesn’t do us any good to worry, concern, doubt, or any of the things you guys are saying,” Frost said in response to a question about Nebraska’s run defense, which allowed 368 yards. On another question about whether NU’s receivers — who caught three passes all night — Frost said he wouldn’t criticize his players.
Nebraska was angry, Barry said, but focused on the future. The Huskers had a puncher’s chance, Frost said, to beat Ohio State, if they played really well, and they didn’t.
“So that’s the result,” Frost said of a game where Ohio State didn’t punt until the fourth quarter.
The mood — disappointed, but generally pragmatic — was a jarring shift from the upward and ascendant tone of the preceding week, when ESPN’s “College GameDay” visited campus and Nebraska (3-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten) unveiled a $155 million facility plan. NU had reason to think it could hang with the Buckeyes, given the narrow 36-31 loss in Columbus last year. OSU (5-0 and 2-0) had a new coach, a new quarterback, new coordinators, new receivers and a relatively new offensive line. Recruits in town for the big game stuffed the sideline. Jets flew over twice in the pregame.
But TV shows, facility renderings and flyovers don’t win big games.
Hunger wins. Barry said OSU was “loaded with hungry, young players,” including the best offensive line he’s seen.
Talent wins. The gap in speed, quickness and strength revealed itself so often and so starkly.
Fields, who threw for 212 yards and rushed for 72, left Barry grasping for air on his first touchdown run, a 15-yarder through the heart of NU’s pass defense. On the following drive, Barry was launched in the air by a block from OSU center Josh Meyers on a 15-yard from J.K. Dobbins. On a key third down, Fields trotted 14 yards as the Buckeyes offensive line walled off the entire Husker defensive front seven.
OSU receiver Austin Mack dead-legged NU cornerback Lamar Jackson on a 38-yard pass. Two Buckeye linemen plastered Husker nose tackle Damion Daniels to the turf on Ohio State running back Master Teague’s 8-yard touchdown run. Fields pirouetted out of the foot tackles of two Husker linemen to throw an 18-yard pass.
Buckeye defensive end Chase Young — perhaps the best defensive player in the nation — routinely zipped around NU tackle Matt Farniok to harass and flush Martinez. At one point in the second quarter, a member of Ohio State’s media relations team even exclaimed, “Oh, Chase!” in the press box as Young bore down on NU’s quarterback.
“His strengths are really my kind of weaknesses,” Farniok said.
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Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning — at 248 pounds — raced down 190-pound Wan’Dale Robinson on a jet sweep 2 yards from the first down. Robinson only had 1 yard to gain.
Execution wins. Nebraska’s best player, Martinez, had a first-half stat line of two completions, three interceptions, three sacks and zero points scored.
“I’m going to shoulder a lot of that responsibility with that side of the ball,” Martinez said.
Martinez threw his first interception on Nebraska’s sixth play. His second pick, a disastrous overthrow of Robinson inside the Buckeye 5 when a good pass would have produced a touchdown, came during NU’s only productive drive of the first half. His third interception, another overthrow among several Husker receivers, came on Nebraska’s fourth drive. OSU scored 17 points off those turnovers, as Nebraska continued its pattern of giveaways this season.
The sophomore signal caller struggled so much that, when he completed a pass on the first drive of the third quarter, some of the remaining 89,759 fans gave a sarcastic cheer.
“We have to protect the quarterback so he can throw, we have to make better throws, we have to get open, all those things,” Frost said. “We have to be better. I’m not trying to be snarky or anything. We just weren’t good enough at any of that tonight.”
Nebraska hasn’t thrown for so few yards since the 2009 Oklahoma game.
NU no longer has a 2009 defense. Saturday night’s bunch allowed 6.9 yards per carry and 368 rushing yards. Darrion Daniels chalked that up to “little details.”
“I felt like physically we were there — they just executed all the little things,” said Daniels, noting inconsistent execution and “eye violations.” “They’re a team that capitalizes off of us missing on those little things, and they did that tonight.”
Little things like that. Big things like blocking, tackling and protecting the quarterback. Just about everything, quite frankly, as the crowd thinned and the mist rolled in, a physical damper on the night to match the emotional one.
“It’s always a buzzkill when we can’t perform in front of our own crowd,” said Daniels, an Oklahoma State graduate transfer who’s new to this experience. Nebraska fans are veterans at it, by this point.
But Frost preached patience. He said NU can’t run from who it is and where it is. Last season it lost by five at Ohio State. This season, it lost by 41 at home. OSU was good then and really good now, Frost said.
Nebraska? Hungry to get better, Frost said. Certain of where it’s headed, Farniok said. To where Ohio State already is. Those Buckeyes? Yep.
“Honestly, that’s where we’re going to be,” Farniok said. “I know that’s where we’re going to be, because no one on this team is a quitter. No one here is even allowed to think that.”