Nebraska football stormed down the field in its opening drive of the 2020 season to take a 7-0 lead against No. 5 Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday. Despite an aggressive start, Nebraska fell apart in the second half and lost 52-17 to the Buckeyes.
Here are three takeaways from today’s game:
That was better than the score suggests
Ohio State could be one of the best teams in the country, and Nebraska is coming off of a 5-7 season under third-year head coach Scott Frost. There’s a clear bridge in quality between the two, and that was illustrated on Saturday. The score looks scary, but Nebraska fans should have hope for the rest of their 2020 season.
Last season, Ohio State massacred the Huskers in a 48-7 victory in Memorial Stadium on College Gameday’s national stage. Then-sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez threw three interceptions, compared to none this year. Martinez did a far better job of protecting the ball, but he did lose a fumble that the Buckeyes returned for a touchdown in the second half.
Nebraska’s offensive line held up well compared to previous years against the powerful Buckeyes defensive line. While Ohio State has suffered turnover through players leaving for the NFL, many still expect them to be one of the most efficient defensive units in college football. The Nebraska offensive line, however, was able to create holes for running backs such as senior running back Dedrick Mills, who notched 10 attempts for 33 rushing yards, and redshirt freshman Ronald Thompkins who had four attempts for 22 yards. Overall, due to a big contribution from the quarterbacks early in the game, Nebraska rushed for 217 yards on 36 attempts.
During the offseason, the Huskers offensive line was expected to be one of the strongest positions on the offensive and didn’t disappoint against the Buckeyes. Nebraska’s rushing offense, which earned 5.8 yards per rush, has room to improve but held their own against one of the best defenses in the Big Ten.
Two-quarterback attack debuts
Both Martinez and redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey took snaps at quarterback. Martinez completed 12-of-15 attempts and McCaffrey added four completions on five attempts. Together they passed for 105 yards against a tough Ohio State secondary.
Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick and Frost’s decision to use both quarterbacks frequently with McCaffrey in the backfield occasionally kept the Buckeyes on their toes. With McCaffrey in the backfield and Martinez under center, the redshirt freshman was able to get game experience against one of the best teams in the Big Ten. McCaffrey earned a team-high 89 rushing yards on 9 attempts.
Huskers shot themselves in the foot
Nebraska’s eight penalties for 90 yards destroyed its momentum on big drives and cost it junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and senior safety Deontai Williams due to being ejected for targeting both in the second half. Both Williams and Taylor-Britt will miss the first half of Nebraska’s home-opener against Wisconsin next Saturday.
After Nebraska’s defense forced the Buckeyes to kick a field goal on an 11 play, 70-yard drive at the end of the second quarter, the Huskers offense got a delay of game which killed the momentum of their ensuing drive. Nebraska’s inability to score at the end of the first half ultimately sunk its chances, as the Buckeyes dominated the game from that moment on.
Martinez’s only turnover came from a graduate transfer defensive end Jonathon Cooper-forced fumble in the third quarter followed by an immediate scoop and score from junior cornerback Sevyn Banks, boosting the Buckeyes to 38-14. McCaffrey also turned over the ball in garbage time as a result of being stripped by junior linebacker Dallas Gant.
In order to compete with and/or beat an elite football team like Ohio State, Nebraska can’t have turnovers to put the ball back into the hands of Ohio State junior quarterback Justin Fields or penalties to kill their own momentum, especially when momentum is hard to come by like it was on Saturday.