LINCOLN – Saturday night turned into a game that anybody associated with Nebraska football will want to quickly forget.
Instead it became one that was etched in the school record book.
No. 9 Ohio State used five touchdown passes and two touchdown runs from quarterback J.T. Barrett to rout the Huskers 56-14 inside a steadily emptying out Memorial Stadium.
“There’s not a lot of happy (or) good to say about that one,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “It was a disappointing loss.”
That performance fell just short of the 61 points scored by Minnesota in 1945 as the most ever allowed by the Huskers in a home game.
Barrett finished 27-for-33 for 325 yards to lead Ohio State’s 633-yard output.
That did break the record for most total yards allowed by a Nebraska defense at home, exceeding Notre Dame’s 620 yards in 1948.
It just missed out on becoming the most yards ever allowed by NU. That dubious mark was set in 1956 with 656 yards at Oklahoma.
Ohio State’s 35 first downs were also the most ever gained against Nebraska.
“We had a difficult time to get them off the field, which we didn’t. …” Riley said. “These aren’t excuses, but we ended up playing basically without our three safeties. There were some new guys in there.”
The first possession by each team provided perfect previews of how the game would play out.
The Huskers gained four yards while going three and out.
The Buckeyes (6-1) consumed 96 yards in nine plays to go up 7-0 just 4:17 into the game on J.K. Dobbins’ 52-yard sprint.
After two possessions, Nebraska (3-4) had gained five yards.
After two possessions, Ohio State had 12 plays of at least five yards and a 14-0 lead after Barrett’s 6-yard run.
“That’s very difficult when you can’t piece together a drive like that and they go down and score two times in a row,” NU fullback and senior captain Luke McNitt said. “But we’ve got to have a short memory and be able to learn from what they’re doing.”
Riley said he felt the Huskers were ready to play.
“We’ve been fairly realistic about where this team appears to be overall and then week to week,” he said. “I didn’t sense anything about us not getting them ready or them not getting ready to get after it. We just had a tough team keeping up with what they were doing with the totality of their offense.”
Three more possessions by the Buckeyes in the second quarter resulted in three more touchdowns and a 35-0 halftime lead.
Barrett threw touchdowns to K.J. Hill for 16 yards and Terry McLaurin for 31 yards before taking another one in himself from 3 yards out.
While the Blackshirts struggled to even slow down the Buckeyes, the highlights were few and far between for Nebraska’s offense.
The Huskers’ second first down of the game shortly after the midway mark of the second quarter resulted in some balloons being released by fans around Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska’s best scoring opportunity in the half came on the final play when Tanner Lee’s 57-yard heave was almost caught by De’Mornay Pierson-El as he cut between a trio of Ohio State defenders in front of the end zone.
By that point, nearly three-fourths of the Nebraska student seating section had cleared out. Ohio State’s punter probably could have joined them since it seemed likely that is services wouldn’t be needed.
And they weren’t.
“That’s not what the fans want to see. They don’t want to see us going into the half losing like that,” Lee said. “But I appreciate the fans that stay, and I love playing in front of those people. It was still loud.”
After two quarters, the Buckeyes had outgained NU 366-116 and had 22 first downs to compared to the Huskers’ 5.
Halftime didn’t change anything. Ohio State marched on down the field in 3:31 to start the third quarter and extended the lead to 42-0 on Barrett’s 16-yard pass to a wide open Rashod Berry.
Nebraska fans finally had something to cheer about 24 seconds later. Lee connected with freshman JD Spielman, who used his speed down the right sideline to transform a short pass into a 77-yard touchdown play.
Spielman finished with 11 catches for 200 yards.
Then things resumed their normal routine with a Barrett 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marcus Baugh.
Nebraska’s offense continued its second-half success with a 17-yard Lee pass to Stanley Morgan to make it a 49-14 deficit.
Ohio State had to work a little harder to make it 8-for-8 on finishing possessions in the end zone. The Buckeyes converted on two fourth-down plays before Barrett hit Hill with a 6-yard TD toss.
“We couldn’t make (Barrett) uncomfortable throwing the ball,” Riley said. “That was a pretty clean pocket he was throwing from.”
Nebraska’s defense finally got its first – and only נstop with 4:07 left in the game when back-up quarterback Joe Burrow’s fourth-down pass into the end zone sailed high.
By then, well over half of the stadium appeared empty.
“You never want to see Nebraska football like that, but I think moving forward this team is going in the right direction,” McNitt said. “It might not be as quickly as the fans or we like, but next week we’re going to come back ready to work.”
Lee said there are positives to playing against Ohio State, even in this ugly of a loss.
“I think it’s a big-time learning experience,” he said. “That’s who we want to be, and that’s why we come to work.”
Riley refused to say this was now a rebuilding season for the Huskers. He said that every season should involve a team building, not rebuilding.
And he remained optimistic that these Huskers can do just that.
“I think that frankly I’ve got a feeling this team has a trust within the building, within the locker room, within our staff that they will believe that we will come back and get better,” he said. “When you are playing a game like it, it doesn’t seem like it, but there are individuals that are getting better.”
But sitting with a losing record going into a bye week isn’t where the Huskers expected to be.
“We all have more optimism at the start of the year than any other time,” Riley said. “But realistically I also in the back of my mind know that anything can happen in a season. Whatever is going on, we have to do our best with the players to make sure that they don’t lose the confidence.”