Playing in its first game since December, Ohio State overcame a sleepy start from its defense early on to rout the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 52-17, in a mostly empty Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Quarterback Justin Fields led the Buckeyes with a nearly perfect performance, completing 21 of his 22 passing attempts for 276 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 54 yards and a score on the ground.
Sophomore receiver Garrett Wilson had his way with the Nebraska secondary all day, hauling in seven catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. Chris Olave added six catches for 104 yards before leaving the game in the second half with a head injury.
As a team, the Ohio State offense wracked up 498 yards of total offense, striking the coveted balance in both the running and passing game.
Despite the lopsided final score, things weren’t always pretty for the Buckeyes, particularly early on as Nebraska head coach Scott Frost and the Cornhusker offense found success in the running game.
Nebraska received the opening kickoff and wasted no time in finding the end zone. Prior to the game, Frost said both Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey would see time at quarterback, and that was evident on the opening drive, with a twist.
Following a 9-yard run by Martinez, McCaffrey took a handoff from Martinez and raced 47 yards down to the Ohio State 10-yard line. One play later, it was Martinez outrunning the Buckeye defense to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and an early 7-0 Nebraska lead.
Looking to answer on their debut drive of the season, Fields and the Ohio State offense went to work at their own 25-yard line. Completions of 14 and 24 yards by Fields to Olave and Wilson moved the ball to the Nebraska 35-yard line, and running back Master Teague III capped off an 11-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to get the Buckeyes on the board. Blake Haubeil’s extra point evened the score at 7-7 with 8:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Following a Nebraska three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Fields went back to work at his own 24-yard line, and he needed just six plays to give Ohio State its first lead of the day.
On second down from the Nebraska 42-yard line, Fields connected with Olave on a deep touchdown strike across the middle of the field to put the Buckeyes in front, 14-7, with just over four minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
The Nebraska offense continued to find success, though, particularly on the ground against an Ohio State defensive line still searching for the right rotation. Midway through the second quarter, the Huskers would again find paydirt, this time on a 3-yard run by Dedrick Mills to pull them even with the Buckeyes at 14 points apiece.
From there, Ohio State began to assert its dominance, however, as the considerable talent gap began to show. Backed up to his own 12-yard line, Fields led an 11-play drive that ended with a 34-yard field goal by Haubeil to give the Buckeyes the lead at 17-14.
Teague’s 6-yard touchdown run just before halftime increased Ohio State’s lead to 24-14 as the two teams went into the locker room, setting up a critical moment to start the second half as Nebraska tried to stay in the game.
Receiving the ball to begin the third quarter, the Ohio State offense looked to put Nebraska on the ropes, and they did just that eight plays later. On first and 10 from the Cornhuskers’ 17-yard line, Fields raced to the goal line and pulled off a nifty spin move, twirling past Huskers defenders and into the end zone for the touchdown. Haubeil’s extra point gave the Buckeyes a 31-14 lead just over three minutes into the second half, capping off a two-touchdown bookend to the halftime break that effectively put the game away.
The Buckeye defense got in on the scoring on the ensuing drive when Martinez, flushed out of the pocket and scrambling, fumbled the ball. Cornerback Sevyn Banks scooped up the ball and returned it 55 yards for the touchdown, officially signaling the rout was on in Columbus.
Nebraska would add a field goal on its next drive, but fourth-quarter touchdowns by Fields, who was helped out by a spectacular catch by true freshman Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the back of the end zone, and true freshman quarterback Jack Miller from two yards out finished off the blowout to move the Buckeyes to 1-0.
Following the game, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day credited Nebraska’s game plan early on, which had his defense on its heels to start the game. However, he said he was pleased with how the defensive players and staff settled in following the slow start, helping the team to the only statistic that matters.
“The number one goal is to go 1-0,” Day said. “That’s the tricky thing here at Ohio State. You can’t win championships (in week one), and it doesn’t matter how you win. It’s just a matter of if you win. The best thing you can do is apologize for how you win. To beat a team like Nebraska, 52-17, that’s a pretty impressive day. The expectations are high, but the reality is to go 1-0, that’s a great day.”
Of course, all eyes for Ohio State now shift to next week’s showdown at Penn State, a game that will likely go a long way in deciding the Big Ten East division. “This is going to be a huge week of preparation, and it starts here in a few hours,” Day said.
While Olave’s status will certainly be monitored leading up to Saturday, Day said the receiver was in good spirits and “had a good look in his eye” on the sideline. Kickoff for the game against Penn State is set for 7:30 p.m. in State College.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.