Coming off a demoralizing loss, the 14th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers can't afford to waste time licking their wounds as they prepare for this Saturday's Big Ten Conference clash with the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes.
Ohio State is a game over .500 at the moment (3-2), and coach Luke Fickell's squad is coming off a 10-7 home loss to Michigan State. It was the Spartans' first win in Columbus since 1998, and the Buckeyes second loss in the last three games of this campaign. It was only the 24th Big Ten-opening loss in OSU's history -- its record in such clashes standing at 70-24-4. Clearly not the same Ohio State team that has dominated the Big Ten over the last decade or so, this year's club has had all kinds of trouble getting into an offensive rhythm, and its scoring average of only 23.8 ppg has it ranked 10th in the league and 90th in the country.
Nebraska's first-ever Big Ten Conference bout didn't go quite as well as head coach Bo Pelini would have liked, as the fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers capitalized on multiple turnovers and routed the visitors in a 48-17 final last weekend. The loss was the Huskers' first of the season, and dropped Pelini's record against ranked opponents to 5-8 -- just 1-6 versus top-10 foes.
Coach Pelini, who played his college ball at Ohio State (1987-90), knew his team was in for a battle in its first foray into Big Ten play, "I'm very familiar with Big Ten football. That's (Wisconsin) a good football team. They played well, we didn't. I give them all the credit in the world; they played well. We knew that they were a good football team coming in."
As has been the custom for much of the season, the Buckeyes couldn't muster much in the way of offensive production last Saturday against Michigan State, falling to the Spartans by a scant three points. The Ohio State ground attack managed a paltry 35 yards on the day, and the offense generated just 178 total yards. Both Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller saw time under center for OSU, but once again neither did anything to distance himself from the other, although Bauserman did lead the team to its only score -- a 33-yard TD pass to Evan Spencer with just 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Although he has been replaced as the team's starting quarterback, Bauserman is supportive of the situation, at least on the surface. "Braxton (Miller) is still the starter. All we can do is go out, practice hard and give it all we can. Then the coaches can decide," said the senior signal-caller. "As long as everyone is on the same page and knows which one of us is starting, then we can prepare accordingly."
In a season already steeped in controversy, the Buckeyes received some more bad news earlier this week when it was announced that three players, WR DeVier Posey, RB Daniel Herron and OL Marcus Hall, would not play in this game, and may be suspended indefinitely for apparently violating the NCAA's rule regarding employment, and the amount of compensation one can receive. Posey and Herron were among five Buckeyes suspended for the first five games this season following a memorabilia scandal involving the owner of a local tattoo parlor.
The OSU defense did a terrific job under the circumstances last week, permitting just 71 rushing yards and only 3-of-14 third-down conversion attempts to be successful. DB Travis Howard and LB Andrew Sweat each had 10 tackles in the game, and the Buckeyes have allowed only three TDs in the second half of fives games this season. Ohio State ranks 11th nationally in scoring defense (14.6 ppg). Sweat, who leads the team with 34 total tackles this season, knows his team needs to turn the page after last week's loss and focus on the present.
"We have to have short-term memories going into Nebraska. We've heard the environment is similar to Wisconsin and Penn State. But we have to play our game regardless of the environment."
Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead carried the ball 18 times for 96 yards and a TD against the Badgers last weekend, while QB Taylor Martinez added 61 yards and a score on 20 carries. Martinez threw for 176, but was intercepted three times during a six-minute span from late in the second quarter to early in the third. Freshman WR Jamal Turner set career highs with five receptions for 84 yards. Burkhead has eight rushing TDs this season.
The Huskers, who had been efficient and disciplined in the first month, were guilty of a season-high nine penalties, after averaging half that in the previous four games.
Despite the reputation Nebraska's 'Blackshirt' defense had coming into the conference opener, it was a long, hard day for the group. Wisconsin rolled up 486 yards of total offense (231 rushing, 255 passing), made good on 8-of-12 third-down chances and scored on all five of its trips to the red zone.
Pelini was apologetic for his team's defensive effort following the debacle, "Defensively, we didn't make plays. I'm embarrassed by how we played defensively. I apologize to the fans of Nebraska, because that was a joke. Plain and simple."