|Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is brought down by a Nebraska defender Saturday night in the Buckeyes 34-27 loss to the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo)|
But like everything that's happened to the Buckeyes over the past 10 months, good fortunes would turn for the worse — and in a very short period of time.
Midway through the third quarter, Miller was forced out of the game as he rolled his right ankle badly on a QB keeper play. He was done for the night with a sprain.
And so were the Buckeyes chances of victory, as the Cornhuskers, behind quarterback Taylor Martinez and tailback Rex Burkhead, rallied for 21 unanswered points following Miller's injury to defeat the Buckeyes, 34-27 — their first conference victory as a member of the Big Ten.
Martinez finished the game with 293 total yards (191 pass, 102 rush) and three touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush), while Burkhead added 119 on the ground (4.6 avg.) and a score. The junior runner also recorded five receptions for 59 yards and another touchdown in the win.
The Buckeyes (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) with Miller at the controls tallied 312 yards, 27 points and 13 first downs. Without him, Ohio State managed just 39 yards the rest of the way, totaled three first downs and were outscored 21-0 by the Cornhuskers (5-1, 1-1).
"(Miller's injury) shouldn't (have affected us), that's the way I look at it," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said following the game. "That's where leadership comes in and leadership, and somebody's got to take charge out there (when someone goes down)."
Fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Bauserman, in relief of Miller, finished just 1-of-10 passing for 13 yards and an interception.
Buckeyes sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde led the team in rushing Saturday night, toting the ball 13 times for a career-high 104 yards and two touchdowns, including a 63-yard scoring jaunt — also a career-best — in the second quarter to give the Buckeyes a 17-3 lead.
Although the Buckeyes lost the game, their offensive output for the first two-and-a-half quarters of play Saturday night was inspiring, especially following their horrid performance last week against Michigan State, where they totaled just 178 yards (35 rushing) and seven points for the contest.
Miller rushed for 91 of the Buckeyes' 243 yards in the loss, picked up critical first downs and was the catalyst of five scoring drives on the team's first seven series of the game.
Miller even displayed efficiency throwing the football, going 5-of-8 passing for 95 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake Stoneburner in the first quarter to go ahead 10-3.
Again, life after Miller was hectic and the team looked as if they lost their general.
"I didn't think we were in trouble, but my heart did sink a bit (when Miller left the game)," Stoneburner said.
The offense wouldn't be the only aspect of the Buckeyes' game that went south following the loss of Miller. The Ohio State defense was just as much to blame for the defeat.
After giving up just six points in the first half and less than 130 yards of offense, the Buckeyes defense fell apart in the final 30 minutes of action, surrendering 28 second half points — and 337 yards — the rest of the way.
And it wasn't exactly as if the Buckeyes defense was worn down from being on the field the entire second half. The Buckeyes defense gave up three touchdown drives of 80, 72 and 78 yards in an average of just 2:16 per series — after Miller's injury.
OSU safety Tyler Moeller said Nebraska made adjustments offensively following the loss of Miller, something for which the Buckeyes' defense had no answers.
"They just out-schemed us," Moeller said. "Thhey changed up their style a bit and we weren't in the right gaps. They just outplayed us (late in the game)."
Of course, OSU head coach Luke Fickell said scheme or no scheme, the Buckeyes needed to make stops and they simply didn't.
"We have got to get a few stops on defense, that's what it comes down to," OSU head coach Luke Fickell said. "We've just got to do a better job. I'm sure there are lessons out there. We've got to figure out what they are and grow from them.
That's part of football. That's part of life."
The Buckeyes won't have much time to lick their wounds as they have to travel to unbeaten and top-20 ranked Illinois next Saturday, in search of their first conference win.