COLUMBUS, Ohio - Just when it looked like things might be different this time around, the same problems Nebraska has dealt with in big time road games the past four years reared their ugly heads once again.
After leading 17-7 early in second quarter, the No. 21 Huskers (4-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten Conference) completely fell apart in the second half and allowed No. 12 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) to run away with a 63-38 blowout victory on Saturday night.
The 63 points by the Buckeyes were the most ever allowed by Nebraska in five seasons under head coach Bo Pelini.
In front of an Ohio Stadium-record crowd of 106,102 and a national television audience, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller put on a show and helped the Buckeyes outscore NU 49-17 from the second quarter on. Miller ended the night with 313 yards of total offense, including a career-high 186 rushing yards.
"I just told our football team, we killed ourselves," Pelini said. "We've been here before. We've done it before on the road, and that's the most disappointing thing. We talk about it and talk about it and talk about it. Believe me, I'm frustrated and I'm disappointed."
Nebraska's offense couldn't have been much worse on its first three possessions, as after two stalled drives it spotted Ohio State the game's first touchdown on a 41-yard pick six by Bradley Roby with 8:29 left in the first quarter.
Just like last week, though, the Huskers were able to settle down and look like a completely different team, if only for a short while. It all started when Burkhead broke a 73-yard run and a facemask on OSU put the ball at the Buckeye 4-yard line.
On third-and-goal from the 1, Nebraska punched it into the end zone on a unique play where quarterback Taylor Martinez motioned out into the flat and Burkhead moved up to take the snap under center. He then gave a quick pitch to sophomore Ameer Abdullah, who barreled his way in for the score to tie it up.
Abdullah then set NU up with great field position on the next possession, returning a punt 47 yards to the Ohio State 28. On a first-and-goal from the 3, the Huskers ran the exact same play they scored their first touchdown with and Abdullah found the end zone again to make it 14-7 with 1:50 remaining in the opening quarter.
By the time the first quarter came to a close, the Buckeyes had managed just 17 yards of total offense without a single first down.
Kicker Brett Maher extended the lead to 17-7 with a 26-yard field goal, but it wouldn't be long before Ohio State came storming back. Miller came up with the Buckeyes' first big offensive play on the ensuing drive, reeling off a 72-yard run down the NU 1, and Hyde plowed it in from there for a touchdown to cut the lead to 17-14.
Martinez then made another poor throw and was picked off by Roby for the second time, and the sophomore cornerback returned it to the Husker 20. Miller found tight end Jeff Heuerman on an 18-yard roll out pass for a touchdown to put OSU back up 21-17 with just under nine minutes to go in the half.
Facing a difficult third-and-long deep in their own territory, Martinez came up with a clutch pass to receiver Kenny Bell over the middle, and Bell took it 74 yards down to the sideline inside the Ohio State 10.
A personal foul on the Buckeyes moved the ball up inside the 5, and Martinez scrambled for a 9-yard touchdown run two plays later to put NU back on top.
Miller and Co. answered right back, though, putting together a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a 7-yard touchdown run by Hyde to reclaim the lead at 28-24. Nebraska was forced to punt on its following possession, giving the Buckeyes the ball back at their 43 with 1:27 to go before halftime.
That would be more than enough time for Miller, as he broke off a 30-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-inches play to give Ohio State a 35-24 advantage going into the second half.
Just like he did in last year's meeting in Lincoln, Miller single-handedly dominated the Huskers. The sophomore put up 215 yards of offense in the first half, including 137 on the ground on just 10 attempts, to go along with two total touchdowns.
"It's real frustrating," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "We didn't do a very good job planning it, and we didn't go a very good job of executing the plans. So it's really frustrating because we knew coming into the game that he was what he needed to stop, and we weren't good enough to do it or we didn't have good enough focus to get it done."
Needing to respond in a big way, Nebraska wasted no time doing so to open the third quarter. The Huskers put together three straight plays of 20 or more yards to move the ball down the Ohio State 5, and Martinez finished it off with a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Cotton.
The score didn't come without a major cost, however, as Burkhead appeared to re-injure his left knee at the end of a 24-yard run during the drive, and he did not return the rest of the game. He ended the game with 14 carries for 119 yards.
Nebraska's attempt at a rally was quickly put to bed, though. The Buckeyes responded by marching 75 yards on 10 plays for another 1-yard touchdown run by Hyde, and then scored again on a 76-yard punt return by Corey Brown to push the lead up to a commanding 49-31 lead with 5:50 remaining in the third.
The Huskers showed one last sign of life to possibly keep the game close on their next possession, but that all ended when Martinez floated a bad pass to Steven Osborne that was intercepted by OSU safety Ohrian Johnson at the Buckeye 5.
Ohio State tacked on another touchdown with 10:27 to play on a 33-yard run by running back Rod Smith, who broke four tackles on his way to the end zone.
Martinez scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 5:38 left in the game, but that was far too little, too late for the Huskers.
With a bye next week, Nebraska will have plenty of time to try and pick up the pieces moving forward. The Huskers return to action on Oct. 20 when they travel to take on Northwestern.
Pelini said all of his team's goals are still within reach despite the loss, but from now until the end of the season, Nebraska has literally no more room for error.
"Obviously I'm disappointed in how the game ended," Pelini said. "No one is more disappointed than I am. Obviously we didn't play our best football. Like I just told the football team, we need to win out. We need to win out.
"That's the only way we can guarantee ourselves getting to Indianapolis."