In a disturbing return to a familiar Jekyll-and-Hyde theme that has run throughout Bo Pelini's tenure as head coach, Nebraska coughed up an early lead and absorbed a 63-38 thrashing from Ohio State Saturday night in Columbus.
Taylor Martinez and the Huskers went on the sort of penalty-and-turnover binge we saw all too often last fall. It happened despite Nebraska grabbing an early 17-7 lead and holding OSU to only 17 total yards in the first quarter. After that, the Buckeyes averaged an astounding 10 yards per play.
Here are my top three explanations for the Husker collapse – feel free to chime in with your own:
1. Nebraska had lousy field position all night, mostly the result of losing the kicking game. Ohio State used seven true freshmen on its kickoff team, and they bottled up Ameer Abdullah, never allowing him to break loose. The Huskers started all but one of their 16 drives inside their own 35-yard line. When NU scored, it had to drive long distance to do it. Even when the Blackshirts finally forced a turnover late in the game, it came at the NU 17-yard line. To make matters worse, the punt coverage team broke down badly on Devin Smith's 76-yard return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
2. Nebraska 's offensive and defensive lines could not sustain their early success. NU owned the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the first quarter. Then, both Husker lines started wavering because of quarterback play. The o-line, which was cohesive and aggressive early, started to question itself a little more each of the four times Taylor Martinez turned over the football. Unsettled by its own quarterback's erratic play, the Husker o-line started melting down. Three of the seven first-half penalties were false starts by Husker offensive linemen. Nebraska's defensive line – which also looked aggressive early in the game – became unhinged by Braxton Miller's incredible twisting and darting runs. Soon their confusion turned into collapse. The Blackshirts became fixated on Miller and lost track of the Buckeye tailbacks, allowing them to rip off large chunks of yardage even when senior safety Daimion Stafford came up to offer run support.
3. Nebraska was completely unable to use Quincy Enunwa's physicality on offense. The senior wideout made only one catch for three yards, and as the Buckeye defensive backs started to get more aggressive with their press coverage, Martinez usually was unable to make them pay. On a brighter note, Jamal Turner continues to make progress as a route runner and pass catcher. He had three receptions, and a fourth – which came on a nice back shoulder route inside the OSU 10-yard line – was called back by a questionable video review.
Tad Stryker is the former sports editor of the North Platte Bulletin and provides analysis after each Husker football game for Bulletin readers. Stryker also writes for HuskerMax. (http://www.huskermax.com).