The Huskers fell short on their upset bid in a 36-31 loss at Ohio State. The loss pushes Nebraska’s record to 2-7 and 1-5 in Big Ten play and puts the Buckeyes at 8-1 and 5-1 in the Big Ten.
Here are three takeaways from today’s game:
Cleaning up play
For the most part, Nebraska did well to keep the game close. But when the opponent is a team as talented as Ohio State, the Huskers needed to play near perfect.
One place this was especially obvious was on special teams. Poor kick returns, a blocked punt that went out the back of the end zone for a safety and a botched onside kick attempt all hurt the team. Without the safety, the complexion of the game changes entirely as most of the game was separated by those two points. The poor special teams affected the field position battle all game as Ohio State’s average starting field position was its own 32-yard line, compared to Nebraska’s average starting field position at its own 25-yard line.
Other uncharacteristic errors included numerous dropped passes from the Nebraska wide receivers. Sophomore wide receiver JD Spielman specifically struggled with drops as he had a few costly ones that cost the team big gains.
Lastly, a mental breakdown from quarterback Adrian Martinez that turned into a fumble was a game changer. His fumble was a freshman play that he has not shown since early in the season. The play cost points and looking back, could have been the difference between a win and a loss.
Adrian Martinez is still a freshman
Going off that last point, Martinez has had some special moments recently, especially in this game. Today also reminded people he is still a freshman who can be plagued by inconsistencies at points in the season.
For the first half, Martinez played some of his best football in a Husker uniform, going 12-16 for 145 yards along with 48 rushing yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. On the last offensive drive of the game, Martinez stepped up again, going 5-5 for 59 yards capped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Spielman.
Martinez was unable to keep that kind of production throughout the game. Outside of the late scoring drive, he was only 5-12 for 62 yards and had seven carries for 24 yards in the second half.
Those numbers simply aren’t good enough to beat a team like Ohio State on the road. While Martinez will be a great quarterback at Nebraska, he is still a freshman and is prone to the peaks and valleys that come with it.
Forced turnovers kept Nebraska in this game
Last year, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s defense at UCF was one of the best in the country at forcing turnovers, with 32 takeaways over 13 games. The Husker defense has not been anywhere close to matching that number this year, but today may be a sign of growth.
Nebraska forced three turnovers against the Buckeyes who, coming into the game, turned the ball over the least out of any team in the Big Ten. The two forced fumbles doubled Ohio State’s season total in that area.
These turnovers were especially important as the Husker defense struggled to slow down the Ohio State offense most of the game. The lone interception for Nebraska came in the red zone after the Buckeyes marched all the way downfield, and the two fumbles came on drives that appeared as if they were heading toward points.
Today was the second game in a row that the Huskers forced three turnovers. If they want to keep games close down the road against Iowa and Michigan State, they will need to continue this trend.