Huskers keep poise, beat fragile Buckeyes
October, 9, 2011
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
LINCOLN, Neb. -- When Nebraska fell apart at the end of the first half at Wisconsin, linebacker Lavonte David lit into his fellow defenders.
David's tirade was justified. The Blackshirts seemed blue after dealing with Russell Wilson for 30 minutes.
"I went in and yelled," David recalled. "I shouldn't do that. I should keep my poise."
David got another chance to address the defense in a dire situation Saturday night. An Ohio State offense that nearly was shut out at home the week before had racked up 20 points and 246 yards on the Huskers in the first half.
A sold-out Memorial Stadium crowd sat in stunned silence -- other than those who booed -- as Nebraska trotted to the locker room down 20-6.
"I talked to the guys, got the defense together and said, 'Everybody stay calm,'" David said. "I talked to them in a calm voice, and everybody stayed calm."
Bruce Thorson/US PresswireNebraska was able to stop Braxton Miller and mount the biggest comeback in Cornhuskers' history.
At a time when cracks could form, when an 0-2 start in a new league seemed inevitable, when a once-promising season could go down the tubes, Nebraska stayed calm, stayed together and stayed on course. David backed up his calm words with effective action, stripping the ball from Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller midway through the third quarter.
Inspired by their leader, the Huskers took complete control and rattled off 28 unanswered points to win 34-27. It marked the biggest comeback in school history, and it took place in the first Big Ten home game in team history.
"I just had to learn," David said. "That's what being a leader is all about. You just can't go out there and talk reckless to your teammates. Those are the guys you're going to battle with. So just talk to them calmly, let them know how you feel and what we've got to do."
Nebraska made togetherness a theme after its humbling defeat at Wisconsin. Quarterback Taylor Martinez took much of the criticism, along with offensive coordinator Tim Beck, although the defense wasn't spared, either, after failing to slow down the Badgers.
The angst and anger in Husker Country would have skyrocketed for the next two weeks if Nebraska had lost to Ohio State. Instead, Bo Pelini and his players can exhale entering a much-needed bye week.
"We stayed the course," Pelini said. "That's kind of the motto of our program. It's about the culture, it's about the process, about staying the course.
"There was no panic."
The same couldn't be said for Ohio State, a program that has taken body blows both on and off the field in recent weeks. The Buckeyes came out with a superb game plan, dominated Nebraska on both sides of the ball and seemed fully in control with a 27-6 lead midway through the third quarter.
Then Miller fumbled. Two plays later, Martinez scooted into the end zone.
"That was the game-changing play," Pelini said of David's forced fumble and recovery.
On Ohio State's next possession, Miller suffered a right ankle injury and hobbled off the field. He had been brilliant up to that point, but his bad wheel prevented him from returning. Ohio State's wheels, meanwhile, fell off.
A Buckeyes team that looked so poised and cohesive suddenly became fragile. The offense stalled under backup quarterback Joe Bauserman. The defense couldn't slow down Martinez and I-back Rex Burkhead, who combined to pile up 250 yards and four touchdowns in the second half.
Ohio State went from 21 points up to seven points down in less than 18 minutes.
"I don't think I've seen a game that changed like that that I have been involved with," OSU first-year coach Luke Fickell said.
"I've never been a part of anything like that," added Buckeyes linebacker Andrew Sweat.
A win that would have breathed life into Ohio State's program turned into the most deflating of losses, one that dropped the Buckeyes to 0-2 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2004. The Buckeyes' October grind continues next week at Illinois and wraps up Oct. 29 against Wisconsin.
Fickell knew his team was ready Friday night. The focus was there. The attitude was there. And Ohio State showed up in a big way. And then it fell apart.
"These guys are resilient," Fickell said. "They have been through a lot and it will come down to their commitment to each other. That is what it really ultimately comes down to -- pride. It's not easy and will be hard to get over."
If Ohio State needs an example -- a painful example -- it can look at Nebraska.
The Huskers said their game plan didn't change in the second half.
The defense simply made stops. The offense simply got first downs, found its rhythm and began to wear down the Buckeyes.
"As long as we're getting first downs, we can go as fast as we want," Beck said. "We were close [in the first half]. We just didn't execute very well. ... Sometimes you're feeling 'em out, trying to figure out what their plan is, how they're trying to stop us, all the different formations we us. It sometimes takes a little bit of time."
Pelini was all smiles walking through the tunnel to Nebraska's locker room. But he took a defensive posture at his news conference, engaging in a testy exchange with a reporter who had been critical of Martinez during the week.
"I'm proud of him," Pelini said of Martinez. "Everybody wants to doubt him. You guys can choose to write whatever you want and attack him like the fans will, and now they'll praise him. ...
"He kept fighting, he led the team, he played a heck of a second half."
As a result, Nebraska enters the second half of its season with plenty to fix but a huge win on which to build. Ohio State, meanwhile, will have a tough time recovering.
"Between last week and this week, we became a lot closer unit," Huskers center Mike Caputo said. "And that's only going to help us the rest of this year."