LINCOLN — Ohio State’s first-half offensive execution quickly created a nightmare scenario for Nebraska.
The No. 5-ranked Buckeyes scored on their first six possessions (five touchdowns and a field goal), building a 38-0 halftime lead on the way to a 48-7 victory on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. Ohio State piled up 378 total yards in the game’s first 30 minutes and the Cornhuskers failed to register a defensive stop until time expired in the first half with OSU in possession at Nebraska’s 36-yard line.
“They’re No. 5 for a reason,” Nebraska senior nose guard Darrion Daniels said of the Buckeyes. “I think we’re a good team, too — I know we’re a good team, too. We could’ve played a better game.
“They had a really good game and they were more consistent than we were and that’s what wins games now: Not just big plays, but consistency in all three phases of the game.”
Nebraska senior linebacker Mohamed Barry said the Buckeyes were much-improved over last season. Ohio State struggled to pull out a 36-31 win against the Huskers in last year’s meeting at Columbus, Ohio.
“You could see that when they played this year they were real hungry to be out there and make plays,” said Barry, who tied safety Marquel Dismuke for the team lead with eight total tackles. “We didn’t execute like we did last year and that’s the biggest thing.”
Quarterback Justin Fields was masterful in leading the Ohio State attack. The 6-foot-3, 223-pound sophomore from Kennesaw, Georgia, was 10 of 15 passing for 148 yards and two TDs in the first half alone and also rushed eight times for 80 yards and another score before the intermission.
Fields finished 15 of 21 for 212 yards passing with three TDs and no interceptions.
He has recorded both a rushing and passing TD in each of his first five games at Ohio State, becoming the first Big Ten quarterback to accomplish that feat since Indiana’s Antwan Randle-El in 1999.
Daniels said Nebraska’s defense played into Fields’ hands by getting out of its pass-rushing lanes and struggling with poor communication.
“We needed the defensively line up front to contain him,” Daniels said. “He’s elusive if he can get out and run.”
Buckeyes’ running back JK Dobbins was equally unstoppable, rushing for 114 first-half yards on his way to a 177-yard rushing night on 24 attempts.
The 5-10, 217-pound junior from La Grange, Texas, averaged 6.7 yards on his 17 carries in the first half, continually gaining yards after first contact.
Of Ohio State’s 580 total yards, 368 came on the ground on 53 carries. The Buckeyes averaged 6.9 yards per rushing attempt.
Was OSU’s successful ground game a result of its great execution or Nebraska’s mistakes?
“A combination of both,” Barry said. “That’s a pretty good team. I’m not going to say that if we did everything perfect that they wouldn’t have had plays because when you play football and you’re playing a good team … there’s going to be good plays on both sides.
“Their linemen shot out and really single-blocked well and their running backs ran hard … and that was the difference. On the flip side, we didn’t execute like we should have.”
Nebraska’s defense certainly wasn’t helped by a lackluster performance by its offensive unit, which managed just 76 yards on its first 28 plays. The Huskers’ seven first-half possessions resulted in four punts and three interceptions thrown by quarterback Adrian Martinez as Ohio State converted the three NU turnovers into 17 points in the first 1 1/2 quarters.
The Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) were 6 of 6 on red-zone scoring opportunities in the first half and were also 7 of 8 on third-down conversions against Nebraska (3-2, 1-1). Ohio State converted 10 of 13 third-down opportunities overall.
“Physically, we were there,” Daniels said. “(Ohio State) just executed all the little things. I mentioned earlier this week that they’re a team that capitalizes off of (opponents) missing those little things and they did that tonight.
“I feel like once we execute on those little details, we’ll be a completely different team.”
Already leading 24-0, Ohio State needed less than a minute apiece on its next two TD drives. The Buckeyes covered 50 yards on three plays to go ahead 31-0 on a 1-yard Master Teague III run and then they went 55-yards on three plays for a 38-0 advantage on Fields’ 18-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Austin Mack with 1:34 left before halftime.
And Ohio State’s offense didn’t cool off during the break.
The Buckeyes opened the third quarter by driving 57 yards on nine plays for a 36-yard field goal by Blake Haubeil to lead 41-0.
On its next possession, Ohio State made it 48-0 on Fields’ 6-yard TD pass in the corner of the end zone to Garrett Wilson with 3:51 remaining in the third.
The Buckeyes were forced to punt for the first time with 13:30 left in the game.
Nebraska’s defense failed to force a single three-and-out possession.
Still, Daniels said the Huskers’ defensive unit won’t be discouraged by its performance against Ohio State.
“(For) everybody in the locker room, it’s just fuel,” Daniels said. “Actually, we’ve come a long way — a long way — just being able to be in there and fight and nobody gave up. That shows a lot about our personality and our character as a team.
“It wasn’t the outcome that we hoped for. We’ve just got to learn from it and we’ve just got to use it to motivate us and drive us.”