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No. 10 Ohio State beats Nebraska, 36-31, avoids upset behind 14-point third quarter

A more balanced offensive attack (and Cornhusker miscues) keeps the Buckeyes in the pursuit of a College Football Playoff berth.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes found themselves trailing the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 21-16, at halftime. However, a big second half on the ground and in the air propelled the Buckeyes to a victory in the penultimate home game of the season, 36-31.

Mike Weber had huge rushes in the third quarter to help get the Scarlet and Gray back into the lead. Rushes of 27 and 37 yards helped jump-start the offense, and lead to 14 points being scored in the third frame. Weber ended the day with nine carries for 91 yards; additionally, he fumbled twice on the afternoon—but both were recovered by the offense.

J.K. Dobbins also had a decent day on the ground, too. The La Grange, Texas, native had touchdowns in the first and third quarters, and had 15 carries entering the fourth quarter. In the waning minutes of the game, Dobbins had a 42-yard TD to help give the Bucks a 12-point, 36-24 lead. For the game, Dobbins ended with 23 rushes for 163 yards. The effort on Saturday was the second time this season that the sophomore had a 100-plus yard day on the ground.

In total, the Buckeye rushing attack picked up 229 yards. That’s the most yards on the ground since the Week 2 contest versus Rutgers.

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins didn’t have a record-setting afternoon in Columbus, but he did have another 200-plus yard outing. Johnnie Dixon was one of Haskins’ favorite targets on the day, as he found the wideout five times—with the first completion to Dixon being a 42-yard TD. Haskins would end the game going 18-of-32 for 252 yards, two passing TDs and an interception.

Dixon led the receiving unit with his five catches and 96 yards. Parris Campbell hauled in four receptions for 31 yards and a score. Tight end Luke Farrell also had a multi-catch day, reeling in three receptions for 33 yards.

Ohio State outgained Nebraska on offense, 481-450, even though the Scarlet and Gray committed three turnovers to the Huskers one.

Brendon White and Malik Harrison led the Buckeye defense with 13 tackles a piece. Dre’Mont Jones recorded the only sack of the game for OSU early in the first quarter. Haskell Garrett and Pete Werner had pass breakups on the afternoon, while Chase Young had the lone QB hit.

Penalties weren’t as big of a problem this week for Ohio State. They only committed six (two on offense, four on defense) in this Big Ten contest, but a targeting call on Jordan Fuller sent him to the locker room early in the first half.

Before the game even started, there were some changes to the OSU depth chart. Defensive back Isaiah Pryor did not dress for the game, making Shaun Wade the starter in his place.

Nebraska got the ball first, and chipped away 75 yards in 12 plays. Running back Devine Ozigbo and quarterback Adrian Martinez were big reasons why the Huskers were able to see paydirt. Option pitches, stretch runs, and an offsides call on OSU led to Scott Frost’s team scoring first. If there was a silver lining for Ohio State, it was Dre’Mont Jones getting a sack early in the drive. However, Nebraska had the lead 7-0 after chewing five minutes of clock.

Things were about to get weird, as the Huskers tried to do an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. It did not work out at all.

Ohio State had a starting point at the NEB31, and somehow managed to do a four-and-out. Dobbins rushed for nine yards over the first two downs, before Parris Campbell lost a yard on third-and-1. Urban Meyer and company decided to go for it, giving Dobbins the ball up the middle. That was a good idea, up until Dobbins was stopped and pulled backwards.

The tide quickly turned in favor of OSU, as they forced a Nebraska three-and-out, and with help of Keandre Jones, blocked the punt on fourth down. The punt rolled out of the end zone, but it got two points for the Buckeyes. Because of the safety, Nebraska had to punt the ball to OSU in lieu of a full-fledged kickoff. Field position wasn’t as good as their last drive, but the Buckeyes made do. Haskins found Demario McCall for 12 yards on a critical third-and-8, and then three plays later, hit a wide open Johnnie Dixon for a 42-yard score. Following another Husker three-and-out, the Scarlet and Gray machine began picking up steam. Haskins found Binjimen Victor, Luke Farrell and Campbell for pass completions, before Dobbins punched in the ball for a 10-yard score. At this point, Ohio State held a 16-7 lead.

That would be all the scoring we’d see in the first quarter—but the visitors were on the move at the start of the second frame.

Primed for more points, the Huskers were in the red zone at the start of the second quarter. However, as Martinez scrambled to the near side, he panicked and threw a backwards pass to JD Spielman. Spielman wasn’t looking for the pass and bobbled it, leading to the ball bouncing in the field of play—and backwards even more. Jonathon Cooper scooped up the ball for the Buckeyes, and prevented a Nebraska score—for now.

A fast-paced first quarter would be contrasted with a second quarter that seemed to last forever. After getting the fumble recovery, Mike Weber coughed the ball up on a 7-yard reception. Fortunately, the ball rolled out of bounds, but the Bucks couldn’t get the first. Micuses continued for OSU, as on Nebraska’s next offensive position, defensive back Jordan Fuller was ejected for targeting. On Ohio State’s next drive, they would commit their first turnover via a Haskins fumble—he was hit by JoJo Domann on the blind side.

Martinez then drove his team down the field, racking up four first downs en route to scoring a TD. They wouldn’t be done yet, as a K.J. Hill fumble led to the Huskers getting favorable position at midfield in the closing minutes of the half. The no-huddle shotgun offense of the visitors caused havoc; Ozigbo, Martinez and Spielman all found ways to stretch the defense—enabling them to continue their charge. With 15 seconds left in the quarter, Martinez forced his way up the middle for another 2-yard score.

At halftime, boos could be heard as the teams went to the locker room. In a surprising turn of events, Nebraska had the lead 21-16 at the break. Below are some halftime stats.

With the ball to start the third quarter, Ohio State was ready to retake the lead. Their drive marched from their own 25 all the way down to the NEB18. It took eight plays to get down there, thanks to Haskins’ arm and Dobbins’ ability to break free. However, on the ninth play disaster struck. Haskins forced the ball in the endzone, and lost the one-on-one battle to Lamar Jackson. It was one of the few mistakes Haskins made in the air all afternoon, but it erased a fluid drive—and gave Nebraska a chance to pull away even more.

And they were so close to pulling away. A third-and-12 pass from Martinez to Spielman was nearly completed down field, but the ball slipped through the hands of the WR. If he would’ve caught that, the Huskers would’ve been in scoring position. However, they were forced to punt the ball away.

With the ball on offense again, Weber took a reverse-field carry for 27 yards, and put OSU in NEB territory. He would get the carry on the next play, but fumbled the ball after picking up six yards. Just like the earlier Weber fumble, the Bucks kept possession. What began as a sour play turned instantly sweet, as Husker nose guard Carlos Davis was hit with a 15-yard hands to the face penalty. With the ball now on the 15, it took just a few plays more before Dobbins went up the middle for the game-leading score.

Ohio State regained the lead, 23-21, with 5:39 left in the third frame.

Three straight possessions of three-and-out football would bring us to the under-3 minute mark of the quarter. OSU had the ball at this point, and would give the ball back after they completed three plays. But instead of punting, they would be giving the ball back to the Huskers on a kickoff. Weber picked up 39 yards over two plays, and a Haskins-Campbell shovel pass/jet sweep went nine yards for a TD.

A 14-point quarter gave the Buckeyes a 30-21 lead entering the final portion of regulation.

The opening four minutes of the fourth quarter featured more three-and-out action before Nebraska was able to break the trend. Thanks to a 46-yard completion to Stanley Morgan, the Huskers set up shop in the OSU red zone. It took six plays to get down to the 1-yard line before a big fourth-and-goal decision by Frost. He decided to take the field goal, cutting the deficit to six, 24-30.

With 7:40 remaining, the Huskers needed a stop to have a chance to take the lead. That stop didn’t happen, as Haskins found Luke Farrell for 17 yards on the drive; a little later on a third-and-4, Dobbins picked up just enough for the first down—thus running clock off the scoreboard. Right after that third down conversion, Dobbins was handed the ball again. He would take the ball the remaining 42 yards to the house, giving OSU a 12-point, 36-24 lead. Instead of going for the extra point, Meyer decided to go for two. The play didn’t work, as Haskins was met at the line after failing to find anybody open in the end zone.

However, the Dobbins score was enough to prevent those pesky Huskers from trying to take the lead. Even though Nebraska would get a quick touchdown, the offense was able to hold the fort down, enabling the Scarlet and Gray to become 8-1 on the season.

Up next for the Buckeyes will be a road contest against the Michigan State Spartans.