Now the talk of how great this team is can begin.
Ohio State’s victories over four no-name non-conference opponents were unimpressive. The Buckeyes’ grind-it-out win over Michigan State had many wondering if the Big Ten team from Columbus had just gotten lucky.
But the lopsided rout — that included a rally from an early double-digit deficit — of No. 21 Nebraska on Saturday night is surely enough for even the toughest critics to give Ohio State some credit.
Ohio State came up with big plays on both sides of the ball to stay unbeaten with a 63-38 victory over the Cornhuskers in front of a record crowd at Ohio Stadium.
It didn’t start pretty.
The Buckeyes offense sputtered through four first-quarter possessions without picking up a first down. Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead broke off a 73-yard run in the quarter, while Ohio State ran nine times for 10 yards.
Yet it was Ohio State that reached the scoreboard first, thanks to a 41-yard interception return by sophomore Bradley Roby.
Roby added a second pick early in the second quarter, Orhian Johnson added an interception to his stats totals, senior defensive lineman John Simon sacked elusive Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez three times — causing a fumble on the final one that led to a Buckeyes touchdown late in the fourth quarter — and the rest of the Ohio State defenders joined in with big hits and momentum-slowing plays.
The play of the defense was momentum-slowing because the Cornhuskers still were able to find the end zone twice in the first quarter and kick a field goal early in the second to take a 17-7 lead.
That’s when the Braxton Miller show began.
Saying the sophomore quarterback is going to have some nice runs in a football game is as jaw-dropping as predicting Sunday is going to follow Saturday on the calendar. But somehow Miller continues to amaze the fans, his teammates and his coach.
Miller can turn a broken play into a big gain, a sure sack into positive yards and a fast-closing defender into a grass-stained lump of embarrassment. He was back at it against Nebraska, breaking off 186 yards on 16 carries, including a 72-yarder in the second quarter that included three or four moves that would make a video game designer jealous.
Miller also showed continued improvement as a pocket passer, hitting tight ends Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman with beautiful over-the-shoulder throws deep down the middle.
Joining in the offensive onslaught was junior tailback Carlos Hyde, starting for injured senior Jordan Hall, who ran 28 times for 140 yards and four touchdowns.
Even the special teams got involved — punter Ben Buchanan made a touchdown-saving ankle tackle when it looked as if Ameer Abdullah was headed to the end zone on a 43-yard return, and Corey Brown showed Abdullah how it’s done with a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
But as solid as Ohio State often looked during Saturday night’s game, there were many plays where all three facets of the team struggled.
Devin Smith dropped a punt in the first quarter and Corey Brown — the defensive back, not the wide receiver — saved him with a diving recovery. The offense was hit with several false starts — one was so blatant that the referee called both Reid Fragel and Marcus Hall for jumping over the line. The defense was flagged three times for facemask penalties — safety Christian Bryant got two of them — and three other personal fouls — a late hit by Zach Domicone, a roughing the passer on Ryan Shazier and an unnamed block in the back.
The Buckeyes are also unlikely to get too much praise for the lopsided win simply because it comes against a Big Ten opponent. The conference is lightly regarded this season, and even an undefeated season for Ohio State might be dismissed because of the weak non-conference schedule, the knocks on the league and the fact Ohio State is banned from competing in a bowl game this season.
But most Ohio State fans don’t care about the national picture. After the tattoo scandal that cost the program sanctions and former coach Jim Tressel his job and a losing season under interim coach Luke Fickell last year, the 106,102 were happy to roar every time the Buckeyes came up big against Nebraska.
The Buckeyes have already matched the win total from a year ago.
They have a proven leader in new coach Urban Meyer.
The future looks bright.
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