Ohio State had expectations coming out of its bye week.
After sitting on a 49-20 loss to Purdue on Oct. 20, the talk heading into the matchup with Nebraska revolved around the team playing angry, playing “pissed off” with players ready to prove that the Buckeyes are indeed a Big Ten championship contender, a College Football Playoff contender.
And although it was not in dominant fashion like other games against Nebraska have been in the past, No. 10 Ohio State got back into the win column Saturday, defeating the Cornhuskers 36-31.
“The biggest thing to get that darned bad taste out of your mouth from a couple weeks ago and go win the game,” Meyer said. “We’re going to go back to work. We’re going to enjoy that win now.”
Offensively, it meant going back to its roots, the balanced offense, the offense that Meyer is comfortable with, the offense with the “two-headed monster” of redshirt junior running back Mike Weber and sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins as primary contributors.
“We definitely wanted to run the ball today,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins said.”That was our goal for this game, for this Saturday, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”
The pair combined for 254 rushing yards, recording the most yards on the ground the unit has had since Sept. 1, each averaging over seven yards per carry. Dobbins and Weber also became the first pair in Ohio State history to both have 2,000 career rushing yards.
Dobbins showed this focus in the very first drive of the game, recording nine yards on the first two rushes, but the Ohio State offense of old returned, failing to convert on a short-yardage situation.
It did not return for long. After Haskins connected with Dixon for a 42-yard score in the second offensive drive, Dobbins, at the end of the first quarter, brought the Buckeyes into the red zone with a 16-yard run, scoring his first touchdown of the day on a 10-yard rush.
But Ohio State could not take that dominating lead, the lead it needed to meet the expectation the Buckeyes had for themselves after the 29-point loss to Purdue.
In the first offensive drive of the game, Nebraska freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez led the Cornhuskers on a 12-play, 75-yard drive, ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by senior running back Devine Ozigbo.
Even after breaks that fell in favor of the Buckeyes, blocking a punt that resulted in a safety in the first quarter and a whiffed onside kick attempt which Ohio State recovered at the Cornhuskers 31-yard line, they could not take advantage, losing two fumbles in the second quarter, leading to two 2-yard option scores by Martinez.
Trailing 21-16 at halftime, the expectation for Ohio State was to have its offensive leader, Haskins, who had thrown for more than 400 yards in each of his last three games, use his arm to put the game out of reach for Nebraska.
He led the offense on a methodical drive out of halftime, getting to the red zone, but threw his sixth interception of the season, a ball meant for Dixon in the end zone that landed in the hands of Nebraska junior cornerback Lamar Jackson.
But the Ohio State defense stepped up in the third quarter to keep the Cornhuskers at bay. Nebraska averaged 3.6 yards per rush on 10 carries with Martinez completing three of seven passes for 17 yards.
Overall, despite allowing 450 yards of offense and two plays of over 30 yards, Meyer said those big plays, the big plays that have plagues this defense and led to the success of opposing offenses, did not necessarily happen against Nebraska, vene though there are things to work on.
“There’s defensively still some things but we didn’t give up a big hit,” Meyer said. “We had a couple of hits, but not the big hit. And we were without three starters in the back end of our defense.”
Junior safety Jordan Fuller was ejected from the game in the second quarter after being called for targeting. With a secondary already struggling with depth, playing without sophomore safety Isaiah Pryor, who did not play due to an impingement to his shoulder, Fuller’s absence moved sophomore Brendon White into the safety rotation, recording 13 tackles and two tackles for loss in Saturday’s win.
Meyer said, defensively, Ohio State was much improved against Nebraska, especially with the continuous lineup changes needed because of the injuries to Pryor and sophomore cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, who was suffering through a groin issue from this week’s practice, along with the loss of Fuller. He also said he expects to have everyone back in the rotation next week.
Scoring two touchdowns on a 3-yard rush by Dobbins and a 9-yard shovel pass from Haskins to redshirt senior receiver Parris Campbell, Ohio State took the 30-21 lead heading into the final quarter.
But Nebraska came back with a seven-play, 65 yard scoring drive, leading to an 18-yard field goal,bringing the Cornhuskers within one score.
However, to extend the lead, Haskins led the Buckeyes on a 7-play, 82-yard drive, ending with a Dobbins 42-yard rushing touchdown, his third of the day. The sophomore running back finished with 163 yards on 23 carries, scoring three touchdowns in a game for the first time in his collegiate career.
Nebraska sophomore wide receiver JD Spielman secured a 17-yard touchdown to bring the Cornhuskers back to within ne score with 2:57 left in the game, but, it was not enough as Haskins and the Ohio State offense did not allow another opportunity for Nebraska.
Ohio State defeated a two-win Nebraska team, but Haskins viewed this as an opportunity to give future opponents an idea of what Ohio State will bring.
“We are focused, motivated, angry,” Haskins said. “We just feel like we are being disrespected right now, but we are going to continue to fight and continue to show the country we are one of the top teams.”
To Dobbins, this five-point win over Nebraska created a level of momentum Ohio State will use.
“We have momentum right now,” Dobbins said. “We are going to take it into next week, because we have a big game next week.”
Ohio State goes back on the road to face Michigan State on Nov. 10.