Football vs. Ohio State No. 11

Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez (2) runs with the ball at Memorial Stadium during the game against Ohio State on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska football lost its fourth straight game in remarkably similar fashion, letting special teams mistakes and lackluster offense doom it in a 26-17 loss to No. 5 Ohio State. 

Nebraska’s special teams woes were foreshadowed on its opening possession. After a big pass breakup by sophomore linebacker Luke Reimer on fourth down, the Huskers had a great chance to set the tone with an early lead.

The drive showed promise on the opening play, a 24-yard completion to senior wide receiver Samori Toure that took the offense down to the Ohio State 33-yard line. Nebraska then called three straight running plays and failed to reach the line-to-gain. 

That brought on sophomore kicker Chase Contreraz for a 45-yard field goal. Contreraz was successful in his only field goal attempt against Purdue, but that was not the case in this one, as the kick missed wide, keeping the game scoreless. 

While the missed field goal looked to be a momentum shift in favor of the Buckeyes, the Nebraska defense would make a big play to take it back. Ohio State freshman quarterback CJ Stroud had thrown some dangerous passes into coverage earlier on the drive, and would pay the price on a first-and-10 from the Nebraska 22-yard line. Senior linebacker JoJo Domann made an impressive interception by the sideline, flipping possession back to the Huskers.

Nebraska would do nothing on its following possession, and the teams then traded punts to end the first quarter scoreless. 

Ohio State got within the Nebraska 10-yard yard line on its next possession, with its third-down screen stuffed by Domann. A 25-yard field goal by senior kicker Noah Ruggles gave Ohio State the first lead of the game, 3-0. 

Another special teams error occurred on the ensuing Husker possession. Punting from the Nebraska 36-yard line, sophomore punter William Przystup shanked the punt, keeping Ohio State in Nebraska territory with a 13-yard boot. 

The Buckeyes took advantage of the field position, steadily driving down the field and scoring on a first-and-goal touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Chris Olave, putting Ohio State up 10-0. 

Needing offensive momentum after the last few drives sputtered out early, Nebraska found a big play on a 26-yard catch by junior tight end Austin Allen. Nebraska would find itself in Ohio State territory for the second time in the game, but would have to again settle for a field goal attempt after a third-down run by junior quarterback Adrian Martinez didn’t find the hole. 

Contreraz was brought on for the kick again, and this time he was true from 39 yards, getting Nebraska within a score down 10-3. 

The answer for Ohio State would come instantly. On the opening play of its next drive, sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba caught a 5-yard out, juking past the first level and turning on the jets the rest of the way for a 75-yard touchdown

Smith-Njigba had an outstanding day, catching 15 passes for 240 yards. His 240 yards were the second most against Nebraska in program history, trailing Louisiana Tech wide receiver Troy Edwards’ all-time record 405-yard performance in 1998. 

“He’s a playmaker, we already knew that,” junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt said postgame. “We got to tackle, he turned a five-yard route into a 75-yard route.” 

Seeing Ohio State’s quick response, Nebraska found an instant answer of its own. Martinez found Toure for a 72-yard touchdown, cutting the lead right back down to a touchdown, 17-10. The play is Nebraska’s fifth of 70-or-more yards of the season, the most in the nation. 

Neither offense would find a big play again in the half, and the Buckeyes would go into the break with a 17-10 lead. 

The Huskers would get the ball to open the second half, but two sacks killed a potential momentum-swinging drive. 

“[The pass protection] was not good enough,” head coach Scott Frost said postgame. “There’s things we’re not doing well enough, and this far in the season everybody sees some of those things and one of them is pass pro.”

After a 21-yard punt return by Smith-Njigba, Ohio State was set up with great field position. Smith-Njigba got further into Nebraska territory on the drive’s opening play, with an 18-yard reception landing on the Nebraska 34-yard line. A holding penalty forced Ohio State into a third-and-19 situation, but a third-down screen pass to freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson gained 14 of those yards back, putting the Buckeyes in field goal range. 

Ruggles drilled the 46-yard kick, and Ohio State again went up two possessions, 20-10.

Nebraska and Ohio State then traded punts on penalty-filled drives, with Nebraska missing key offensive opportunities to get back into this game.

Ohio State would start off its next possession with two consecutive first downs, but the Husker defense buckled down and kept them out the end zone again, with Ruggles converting on a 35-yard try to extend the lead to 23-10. 

On the following drive, in the second half the Husker offense finally woke up. Martinez connected with Toure for another huge play, with Toure’s impressive running after the catch leading to a massive 53-yard gain down to the Ohio State 1-yard line. Martinez then took the shotgun snap and sprinted through the defense for the Huskers’ second touchdown of the day. The game was now well within reach for the Huskers, with Ohio State leading 23-17 with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.

Nebraska’s offense did its job, and the defense returned the favor on its next possession. Stroud, who had not thrown an interception since Week Three against Tulsa, tossed his second pick of the day to Nebraska freshman safety and recently-named Blackshirt Myles Farmer.

“I just played my coverage, he ran the over route and it was my guy so I ran with it,” Farmer said postgame. “I looked for the ball, found it in the air and made a play on it.” 

The offense followed up the huge turnover with the longest drive of the game for either team. With a healthy dose of Martinez’s running, Nebraska converted its first third-down of the game and found itself at third-and-3 on the Ohio State 24-yard line. 

The third down pass was far over the head of senior wide receiver Levi Falck, setting Frost up with a predicament on fourth-and-4. Frost elected to trust Contreraz and kick the 31-yard field goal down six in the fourth quarter. The kick veered left, and the Huskers came up empty-handed on their five-minute drive.

“Those are decisions where if something doesn’t work you question it,” Frost said postgame. “If he completes the ball [on third down] and he walks in the end zone, you’re happy.” 

The Nebraska offense would get another chance after an intentional grounding penalty derailed Ohio State’s hopes of punching in a lead-extending score, forcing a punt. The Husker offense had a fantastic start to the drive, with a game-long 21-yard rush by Martinez opening up the drive. However, three straight incompletions followed, and the ball would change hands when Nebraska needed it least. 

Henderson and Smith-Njigba both made big plays to get down to the Nebraska 34-yard line, where the defense almost made the play of its season. Sophomore linebacker Garrett Nelson strip-sacked Stroud, launching the football into the open-field. Unfortunately for the Huskers, Ohio State freshman offensive lineman Luke Wypler was the first to fall on it, leaving the game-changing turnover on the field. 

“I took the guy’s towel and then I was like well, I probably need to get the ball then,” Nelson said postgame. “I didn’t know where the ball was, I thought it bounced backwards but it went like 20 yards the other way.” 

However, the sack did take Ohio State back to the Nebraska 45-yard line, well out of field goal range, making getting the ball back down one-possession very feasible for the Huskers. On a third-and-16 from the Nebraska 40-yard line, a screen pass to Henderson worked exactly how the Buckeyes needed it to, gaining 11 yards to the 29-yard line, well within the range of Ruggles.

Ruggles remained cool and nailed the high-pressure 46-yard kick, putting Ohio State up 26-17. 

Nebraska’s last-ditch drive was cut down on a tip drill pick by sophomore linebacker Steele Chambers, and Ohio State was free to kneel out the clock on its sixth straight win in the series.

This marked the Huskers’ fourth loss against a current top-10 team in the College Football Playoff poll, and the first Nebraska loss of more than one score on the season. The loss drops Nebraska to 3-7, eliminating it from bowl eligibility barring a dearth of available 6-win teams. 

Nebraska gets its bye week before crossing paths with yet another ranked opponent on the road against No. 21 Wisconsin. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com