10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Ohio State
Here are 10 of our biggest takeaways from Nebraska's 26-17 loss to No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday afternoon...
1. Close again, but still no cigar
There’s something to be said about how Nebraska has played against the most challenging competition on its schedule.
Saturday’s effort against No. 5 Ohio State was another perfect example of that, as the Huskers had every opportunity to pull out the most significant win of the Scott Frost era up until the final minutes.
However, just like it was at Oklahoma, at Michigan State, and vs. Michigan, NU couldn’t make enough winning plays when it mattered the most.
As a result, Nebraska solidified its fifth-straight losing season with no bowl game, with four of those coming in head coach Scott Frost’s first four years.
Since its blowout home victory over Northwestern on Oct. 2, the Huskers have lost their past four games. That ties for the second-longest losing streak under Frost and the third time in the past four seasons that NU has dropped four straight losses.
While there are moral victories for the fight Nebraska has shown throughout another disappointing campaign, 2021 will still end with the Huskers spending the postseason wondering when their time will come.
2. The Blackshirts deserved better
Just like in the previous close losses to top-ranked opponents, Saturday was another performance where Nebraska’s defense did everything it was supposed to and more.
Once again, their reward was having to watch the team’s other two phases fail to live up to their ends of the bargain.
It’s hard to consider a game in which the other team racks up nearly 500 yards and over 400 through the air an impressive outing. But the Blackshirts stepped up when they had to and held the most prolific scoring offense in the country to just 26 points.
That marked Ohio State’s lowest point total of the season and 21 points under their nation-leading average. The last team to hold the Buckeyes under 30 points in a game was Alabama in the 2020 national championship.
The effort was even more impressive when compared to the previous Nebraska-Ohio State matchups. Over a combined 11 first-half offensive drives for OSU in the 2019 and ’20 meetings, the Buckeyes scored 10 times with eight touchdowns.
On Saturday, Ohio State was shut out on three first-quarter possessions and scored three times on eight first-half drives. Earlier this season, OSU scored 19 straight touchdowns with quarterback C.J. Stroud under center.
Yet the game still ended in a loss for Nebraska, and the blame was placed solely on the offense and special teams.
3. Huskers reveal the extent of Adrian Martinez’s injuries
When a big hit temporarily knocked Adrian Martinez out of the Michigan State game in the first quarter, he returned to finish the contest and hasn’t missed a snap since.
However, Frost and Martinez pulled back the curtain after Saturday’s loss and revealed just how banged up the junior quarterback actually was.
Frost confirmed that Martinez suffered a broken jaw on that hit against the Spartans.
When NU returned to Lincoln after that game, Martinez was faced with three options for addressing the injury. One, Frost said, would have sidelined him “for a while.” Another would have ended his season altogether.
The third, which Martinez chose, was to tough it out and continue to play.
As if that weren’t enough, Frost added that Martinez suffered an ankle injury during the Tuesday practice before the Minnesota game when a teammate rolled up on him during a play.
Martinez hasn’t been his usual dual-threat self since, and it’s shown with his lack of production in the running game compared to earlier this season.
4. Another loss, another special teams disaster
This season, Nebraska has used three different kickers, two punters, and three punt returners to try and solve its special teams woes.
While there has been some damage control in a few areas, nothing has consistently kept that phase of the game from being a complete disaster for the Huskers.
The Ohio State loss was no different, as special teams blunders once again ended up being crucial turning points in the final outcome. Chase Contreraz, who took over for struggling kicker Connor Culp two weeks ago, missed two of his three field-goal attempts on Saturday.
The first came when NU had a chance to take an early lead in the first quarter and set the momentum. The second was on a 31-yard chip shot that would have made it a three-point game with 9:47 left in the game.
William Przystup punted eight times, and for the most part, he was solid, averaging 43.1 yards per punt with two 50-yard boots.
But his 13-yard shank early in the second quarter spotted Ohio State at the NU 49-yard line and set up the Buckeyes’ first touchdown drive of the day.
After the game, Frost said the most significant problems recently hadn’t necessarily been with Nebraska’s special teams as a whole, but more so with the specialists.
There doesn’t seem like much else left the Huskers can do from a personnel standpoint to fix the issues.
5. Domann had his best game yet
The defense was the day's highlight for Nebraska, and no player had a better individual showing than JoJo Domann.
The sixth-year senior outside linebacker had nine tackles, a tackle for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry, and a diving interception along the sideline in the first quarter.
He flushed Stroud out of the pocket and forced a throwaway for a third-down stop, and he made an impressive open-field tackle on TreVeyon Henderson in the flat for another third-down win.
What made his performance even more notable was that Domann did it despite being questionable to play Saturday due to an undisclosed injury.
Frost said he decided to play "because he loves this team," but added that Domann would have a decision to make concerning the final two games of the season.
If the injury does force Domann to miss one or both of the remaining two games, Frost made it clear that it would not be a situation where Domann was "opting out" of the season.
6. Third down was the difference
There were plenty of numbers on the final stat sheet that told how Nebraska lost to Ohio State, but few carried as much weight as the third-down conversions.
Ohio State was solid on third down, converting 9-of-19 opportunities (47.4 percent) and 6-of-9 from four yards or less. Stroud completed 11-of-14 passes for 92 yards on his third-down attempts.
Nebraska, however, was downright awful in that aspect.
The Huskers went just 2-for-13 (15.4%) on third down, including failing on their first nine attempts. They missed all seven of their tries from nine yards or longer and were just 2-of-5 from four yards and in.
The first third-down conversion didn’t come until early in the fourth quarter when Martinez ran a five-yard keeper on a third-and-three.
7. Pass protection failed once again
Martinez's up-and-down play and the ineptitude of the running game deserve their share of the blame for Nebraska's offensive struggles this season.
But the Huskers' inability to protect the pocket has been just as much of a problem as anything.
Facing another difficult cast of edge rushers in Ohio State's Tyreke Smith, Zach Harrison, and Jack Sawyer, NU tackles Turner Corcoran and Bryce Benhart were on their heels all game.
That trio of Smith, Harrison, and Sawyer combined for three of OSU's five sacks on the day. That was in addition to eight tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries for the Buckeyes.
With the protect that poor and Martinez already hobbled with injuries, it's impressive that the Huskers were to do what they did offensively on Saturday. But even Frost couldn't help but voice his frustration over NU's inability to pass block effectively.
"People get on Adrian pretty hard," Frost said. "Sometimes he deserves it, and sometimes we've got to do a better job around him, and protection is one of those areas."
8. Welcome back, Samori Toure
After managing just six catches for 85 yards over the previous three games going into Saturday, Samori Toure returned to Nebraska’s passing game in an emphatic fashion.
The senior wide receiver hauled in four receptions for a career-high 150 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Three of his four receptions went for at least 20 yards.
His yardage marked the most since J.D. Spielman had 160 against Illinois in 2019 and ranked 14th on the school’s all-time single-game list.
Toure had only eclipsed 100 receiving yards once over the previous six games (108 vs. Northwestern), but he’s now up to four 100-yard efforts on the year. That marks the second-most in a season in program history.
9. No Garrett Wilson, no problem for OSU
Not having a projected first-round NFL draft pick at wide receiver would usually hinder a passing attack for most teams.
When it’s Ohio State, it’s simply a matter of the next five-star in line stepping up.
Such was the case on Saturday, as the Buckeyes went into the game without leading wideout Garrett Wilson, who did not clear concussion protocol in time.
Rather than have the loss change the game plan, OSU turned to other members of its loaded receiving corps. This time it was Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Chris Olave who torched Nebraska from start to finish.
Smith-Njigba was essentially unstoppable all day, hauling in a whopping 15 receptions for 240 yards - both career-highs, of course - including a 75-yard catch and run for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Smith-Njigba’s catch and yardage totals were both the second-most by an opponent in Husker history.
Olave, Ohio State’s other projected first-rounder, followed up with a comparatively mild seven catches or 61 yards and a score.
Even without one of their top offensive weapons, the Buckeyes threw for an NU opponent high 405 yards on 54 attempts.
10. Kevin Warren made his Memorial Stadium debut
After how ugly things got between Nebraska and Big Ten Conference during last year’s COVID-19 scheduling fiasco, it seemed unlikely that commissioner Kevin Warren would make his way to Lincoln anytime soon.
But Warren was in attendance for his first game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. He walked the sidelines during pre-game warmups and spent time talking with NU athletic director Trev Alberts.
Warren also sat with University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor Ronnie Green during the game.
He wasn’t shown on the HuskerVision screens or acknowledged during the game, but his presence was definitely made known on social media.
Jokingly or not, some Huskers fans immediately assumed Warren was there to “make sure” the conference’s top College Football Playoff contender made it out of the day with a win.
But the Buckeyes were penalized eight times for 65 yards compared to six for 60 on Nebraska. Seven of those flags came in the third quarter alone, right after Nebraska was called for kick catch interference and had NU fans in an uproar.