The scary part for Ohio State’s opponents is that Braxton Miller is still learning the offense.
Miller broke his own school record for a quarterback by rushing for 186 yards, zig-zagging 72 yards for one score and passing for another, to lead the 12th-ranked Buckeyes past No. 21 Nebraska 63-38 on Saturday night before the largest crowd ever at Ohio Stadium.
”I’m learning every week,” Miller said. ”They’re throwing new stuff at us every week. I’m just trying to get it all down pat.”
There were plenty of standouts for the Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten). Corey Brown returned a punt 76 yards for a TD, Bradley Roby brought back an interception 41 yards and Carlos Hyde rushed for career highs of 140 yards and four touchdowns before a raucous crowd of 106,102 in the Horseshoe’s 90th season.
Asked how coach Urban Meyer responded in the dressing room, Miller smiled and said, ”He was, like, `How many points did we put up again?”’
Meyer said the offense has developed far faster than what he ever expected.
”Our offensive line eventually took over that game,” he said. ”We have two great runners right now. The quarterback is kind of ridiculous right now and Hyde is a solid back.”
Taylor Martinez ran for two scores and completed 15 of 23 passes for 214 yards and a score but was intercepted three times for defenseless Nebraska (4-2, 1-1). Leading rusher Rex Burkhead injured his left knee early in the third quarter after rushing for 119 yards on 14 carries, but did not return.
”I told our football team we killed ourselves,” Huskers coach Bo Pelini said. ”I’m frustrated and disappointed.”
Incredibly, Ohio State got off to a slow start but more than made up for it by scoring on six of seven possessions over one span – with the punt return touchdown thrown in.
It was the most points given up by the Cornhuskers since a 65-51 loss at Colorado in the final game of the 2007 season – also the last game of the Bill Callahan era.
The Buckeyes hadn’t had so much production since beating Eastern Michigan 73-20 two years ago. The combined 101 points was the most in a Big Ten game involving Ohio State since an 83-21 win over Iowa in 1950. It was the most points scored by the Buckeyes in a conference game since a 69-18 win over Minnesota in 1983.
The win extended Ohio State’s fast start in its first year under Meyer, winner of two national titles during his six years at Florida. The Buckeyes, still eligible to win a Big Ten division title even though on NCAA probation and banned from the postseason, are tied with Penn State atop the Leaders Division standings.
Ahead by 11 points at the half, the Buckeyes watched the Huskers cut the lead to 35-31 on Martinez’s 3-yard pass to tight end Ben Cotton, but countered on Hyde’s third TD run and Brown’s lightning-fast burst through traffic on the punt return to build the lead to 49-31.
Burkhead, averaging 91 yards rushing a game, injured a knee on a 24-yard gain on the fourth play of the second half. He spent much of the third quarter pedaling away on a stationary bike on the Nebraska sideline.
Meanwhile, Ohio State was piling up the points.
Rod Smith also rushed for a 33-yard touchdown and Miller completed 7 of 14 passes for 127 yards.
It was the fourth meeting between the teams, but the first in Columbus since 1956.
The first half – really the second quarter – was the determining factor for the Buckeyes.
They didn’t have a first down in the opening period, gaining just 17 yards on 13 plays while falling behind 14-7 as the crowd went quiet.
In the second quarter, however, they amassed 242 yards and scored 28 points.
Down 17-7 after a Nebraska field goal, the Buckeyes scored on their next four possessions.
It all started when Miller was confronted by Courtney Osborne in the backfield but juked him and then raced down the right sideline for a 72-yard gain, pushed out of bounds at the Nebraska 3. Miller limped off the field and was replaced by Kenny Guiton, who handed off twice to Hyde, the second resulting in a 1-yard dive for the score.
”When it’s my chance to get the ball, I’m going to try to make something happen with it,” Miller said.
Martinez, who worked extensively on his passing during the offseason, had been intercepted by Roby on the Huskers’ second possession, with Roby bringing it back 41 yards for the Buckeyes’ only points of the first 19 minutes.
”It’s a team loss and we have to move on from here,” Martinez said. ”We still have everything in front of us.”
On third and 5 at the Nebraska 20, Martinez threw the ball directly to Roby. His 8-yard return put the Buckeyes right back in business at the Nebraska 20. Two plays later, with Miller now back in, he had a nifty play-action fake before tossing a short pass in the right flat to Jeff Heuerman for an 18-yard score and Ohio State’s first lead on a cool, crisp night, 21-17.
Despite starting their next drive with two false-start penalties, the Huskers came right back. Martinez was hit late but completed a post pass to Kenny Bell, who twice straight-armed defenders on a 74-yard gainer. Martinez stayed in and ended up scoring on a 9-yard run to make it 24-21.
But the Buckeyes weren’t done.
Sticking mainly to the ground, they rolled downfield. The key play was Miller’s 32-yard hook-up with tight end Nick Vannett for 32 yards. Hyde finished it off with a 7-yard TD run, bouncing outside to skirt right end for a 28-24 Ohio State lead.
After a Nebraska punt, the Buckeyes moved to a fourth and 1 at the Nebraska 30. Miller followed a big block by Hyde, skipped around the outstretched arms of a defender and coasted untouched the last 30 yards to make it 35-24 at the half.
A year ago, Nebraska trailed by 21 points before coming back to beat the Buckeyes 34-27 – the greatest comeback in school history.