Nebraska Football: Report Card Grades for Huskers' Win Over Buckeyes
It was a tale of two halves.
To be more accurate, it was a tale of two-and-a-half quarters and then another quarter-and-a-half.
For the majority of Nebraska's first home conference game in the Big Ten, it looked like the game would be a repeat of the Huskers' embarrassing road loss against Wisconsin.
It was almost too much to bear for Husker fans–back-to-back beatings at the hands of their new conference mates on national television and an 0-2 start to conference play, something that hasn't happened since 1968.
Then with 7:54 remaining in the third quarter, LB Lavonte David stripped the ball from QB Braxton Miller as he fought for yardage, which provided a much-needed spark for the Huskers.
The Nebraska offense suddenly sprang to life and rattled off 28 unanswered points, thanks largely to the seemingly unstoppable Rex Burkhead and a rejuvenated Taylor Martinez.
Amazingly, the Huskers prevailed 34-27. As a result, they set a new record for the largest comeback in Nebraska football history.
Since the game felt like two games in one, there will be two sets of grades; one before the momentum shift and one afterwards.
To Taylor Martinez's credit, he completed his first 10 passes, due in part to a conservative Tim Beck game plan structured around short and intermediate passes.
However, Martinez had thrown for only 80 yards in the first half. On the ground, he could only manage nine yards.
An interception by Martinez with less than a minute left in the second quarter brought a chorus of boos raining down on the embattled quarterback.
Rex Burkhead fared even worse.
In the first half, as the Buckeyes' defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, the gritty Burkhead had ran for only 10 yards on 11 carries without even sniffing the end zone.
After the forced fumble by David, the pair came to life and recorded the 69th dual 100-yard single-game rushing attack in NU history.
Martinez found the end zone first on an 18-yard run up the middle and the second half onslaught began.
The offensive line, which had been pushed around in the first half, seemed to get stronger as the Husker scoring continued and even the receiving corps began to block downfield with renewed ferocity.
Martinez finished strong, going 16-for-22 for 191 yards and two touchdowns, which included a perfect 36-yard strike to WR Quincy Enunwa. He also rushed for 102 yards (93 of them after halftime) and a score.
Burkhead ran for 96 yards in the fourth quarter, raising his game total to 119 yards. He also caught the game-tying pass, which accounted for 30 of his 59 receiving yards, and rumbled for the winning touchdown on a 17-yard run.
First Half Grade: D+
Second Half Grade: A
Last week, the Buckeyes could only manage 178 yards of total offense in their loss against Michigan State.
By halftime of the Husker game, the Buckeye offense had 178 yards rushing alone, and 246 yards of total offense.
In the first half, with the exception of Lavonte David, the Nebraska defense looked lost.
Ohio State ball-carriers broke tackles with ease, leaving the Husker defenders grasping for air.
Despite having a blitzing blueprint left by Michigan State, the defense couldn't pressure Braxton Miller and didn't record an official sack until the second half.
Again, the OSU offensive line, aided by the return of LT Mike Adams and anchored by C Mike Brewster, controlled the line of scrimmage; it's clear that DT Jared Crick has not completely recovered from his injury sustained against Washington.
When Miller sensed any pressure he scrambled for chunks of yardage.
The defensive secondary was tentative and held receivers, though the infractions were sometimes missed by the officials. One can only imagine the result if DeVier Posey had been available for the game.
In the second half, the defense, which was aided by Braxton Miller's ankle injury, managed to pressure Joe Bauserman and the coverage improved. Bauserman connected on only one of his 10 passing attempts and was intercepted by Stanley Jean-Baptiste on a deep pass in the fourth quarter.
But the game-changer and only solid fixture on the defense was Lavonte David, who led the team with 13 tackles; without his strip of Miller in the third quarter, the momentum might have never changed.
But after the complexion of the game changed, the Nebraska D started to make stops when needed.
First Half Grade: F
Second Half Grade: B+
Ameer Abdullah, the best kick returner in the FBS, was serviceable with 111 return yards and even broke a 35-yarder.
However, he only managed six yards on two punt returns and mishandled one of them.
As the game wore on, Abdullah seemed less effective.
Brett Maher did what was asked of him, hitting two field goals—his longest a 50-yarder—and converted all four extra points.
In the punting game, he managed a 44.3-yard average on four attempts, kicking two punts off the side of his foot. His longest punt was 53 yards and he pinned two inside the 20-yard line.
First Half Grade: B+
Second Half Grade: C
Where were the blitzes after they had proved so successful for the Spartans just a week before?
Why did Beck choose to run the Wildcat on fourth down?
What about the meltdown in the fourth quarter when the Huskers had only six defenders on the field and had to burn a timeout?
One would also have to question Carl Pelini for just throwing up his hands at one point, though his frustration was certainly understandable.
Though Beck did try to formulate a game plan to help build Martinez's confidence an argument could be made that the Huskers are being over-coached and thinking instead just reacting; even the announcers said that the Pelinis had conceded that point.
This was perhaps a game in which the players finally took matters into their own hands and made play that mattered, when it mattered. However, some credit must be given to the Nebraska coaching staff in the second half; whatever they did, it worked—even if they backed off and let the players ride their emotions to victory.
In the end, the biggest coaching gaffe might come from the Ohio State sideline when Luke Fickell passed on a 49-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter which could have increased the Buckeye lead to two scores.
First Half Grade: D-
Second Half Grade: B-
In the end, this was an amazing game—one that Husker fans will remember forever.
The disparity between the two halves couldn't have been greater.
When the Huskers were down 21 points, everyone except perhaps three players thought all was lost:
Taylor Martinez; who silenced his critics and encouraged his teammates in the huddle even when they were down multiple touchdowns.
Rex Burkhead; who gave his all and played with his usual never-say-die tenacity.
Lavonte David; who stepped up and made a game-changing play when it was needed the most.
So, while the team gets the following scores:
First Half: D+
Second Half: B+
The three above mentioned players, in their own individual ways, earned an A+.