LINCOLN — As the euphoria dissipated from the comeback win against Wisconsin and members of Nebraska's offense began analyzing their slow start last Saturday, one thing quickly became evident: The mental mistakes and fundamental miscues that clogged up a potentially lethal attack for nearly two quarters will be costly next time.
The Huskers enjoyed celebrating their ability to bounce back from the errors and pull out that 30-27 win. But the mood will be different this weekend if that same performance is repeated at No. 12 Ohio State, sophomore Kenny Bell said.
“We'll lose,” Bell said. “They've got too good of an offense and too athletic of a defense to be giving them chances like that.”
The Huskers managed 51 yards on their opening five drives against Wisconsin. They recorded two first downs and fumbled three times, losing one.
They averaged 2.6 yards per carry during that stretch, stalled by the ball carrier's inability to properly read running lanes and the blockers' failure to create them consistently. The fumbles didn't help, either.
Meanwhile, Taylor Martinez and his receivers looked out of sync. A pass sailed out of bounds. Another was batted down at the line of scrimmage. A third short-hopped a target. Martinez twice was flushed out of the pocket, unable to cycle through all of his progressions.
“There's no excuse for it,” junior right guard Spencer Long said. “We can't play 30 minutes of football like we did (in the first half) against Wisconsin or we won't be successful.”
The Huskers hope that the early-game funk was simply a result of an emotional overload. The excitement of the moment evidently overwhelmed the players, and clouded their focus.
But Nebraska's offense had been somewhat streaky in September.
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In the second half against UCLA, the Huskers stumbled on five straight scoreless possessions (68 yards on 18 plays), a sequence that ultimately sealed the loss. A week later against Arkansas State, their first three drives after halftime resulted in a punt and two fumbles.
“Sometimes it's just finding the right play or the right set,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “You just keep plugging away. That's what I'm happy about. Our players, they never quit (Saturday).”
That's because the group is confident it can produce. Martinez said Monday that once NU grabs the momentum and accurately dissects a defense, it “can't be stopped.”
Through five games, Nebraska's offense ranks 10th nationally in scoring (44.8 points per game). Its quarterback has the 10th-best passer efficiency rating (169.6). Only four teams average more rushing yards (305.8) than Nebraska and two squads average more yards per carry (6.4).
Hard to argue that the unit can be machine-like in its precision and efficiency.
“When it catches, it catches. In a big way,” Beck said. “I don't know if we're ever out of a game.”
But in that first half against Wisconsin, the Huskers were wading through self-created sludge that seems to surface at the most inconvenient of times.
That's the emphasis this week. Remove all of that gunk.
Ohio State's defense is full of “a lot of great players,” Beck said. The Buckeyes have shown they're vulnerable, though.
They're giving up 3.6 yards per carry, only three Big Ten defenses allow rushing yards at a higher rate. They're also the league's second-worst pass defense, giving up 275.6 yards per game.
But Ohio State has recorded a conference-high seven interceptions. And Nebraska's 15 fumbles are the second-most nationally, according to cfbstats.com.
“We've got to learn to get out of our own way,” Beck said. “We're our own worst enemy right now.”
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