Had Ohio State been able to hold on to victory over the Cornhuskers it would have been the most season-altering victory the team would have enjoyed in recent memory. Instead, the night ended with dramatic failure, as fans were left with heartbreak that wasn't supposed to have been worse than the previous weekend's home loss to Michigan State.
But the feeling was worse — as a late injury to Miller took the collective fire out of an Ohio State team that gave up 28 unanswered points before falling to Nebraska in a game it controlled for the first three quarters.
Now the Buckeyes return to Columbus with a 3-3 record and an 0-2 mark in Big Ten play, facing what seems to be rock bottom for one of the most stories programs in all of college football.
Braxton Miller is this team's quarterback — Though Miller left the game with a turnover and a sprained ankle, he left no doubt about who is this team's quarterback. Leading an offensive onslaught on the road with a seemingly loose attitude, Miller had everything working for him for the first three quarters before eventually leaving the game with the injury. Of course there were the freshman mistakes, but there really wasn't more this coaching staff could have hoped for out of the youngster coming off a Big Ten opener that ended with him being pulled in favor of Joe Bauserman.
We saw it all out of Miller – he was elusive, he was fast in big gainers on the ground, he was confident and he even made some impressive throws (albeit some ugly passes were also in the mix there). The freshman showed why he was named the starter despite having a limited knowledge of the playbook and how to read defenses, as he is the only quarterback on the roster that makes the offense explosive. A true dual-threat, Miller oozes with potential and could be the guy to lead Ohio State to a finish to remember this year.
Of course there are things he must learn, like how to slide and avoid big hits, how to protect the football and how to throw a spiral (half kidding), but there is no question that this is the future of the program. In a hostile environment leading a team coming off perhaps the most anemic offensive performance in years, there was nothing more a rational human being could have expected out of this kid. And though this game is tainted with heartbreaking loss, has the future ever looked brighter this year? There is a lot to be excited about with this guy running the show.
Show Joe Bauserman the door — He is a senior, he is in his mid-20s, and he has been with the program for over five years. However, Bauserman has been about as terrible as one could expect out of a quarterback when he trots out onto the field. Granted he wasn't supposed to play in this game, but he gives Ohio State absolutely no chance to move the chains. Every throw he makes lands 10 yards out of bounds, he shows no elusiveness, and the offense has no choice but to be bland and predictable with him on the field. Though he entered the game with Ohio State holding a lead, the game felt like it was over because there is absolutely no chance at making a play. And it turned out that it was.
Now that is probably the harshest I have ever been toward a player in any one of my stories, the bottom line is there is no excuse for him continuing to be the only other option. Though there is no denying Ohio State's defense blew it by allowing 28-straight points, it is hard not to look at the offense's inability to even pose a threat to get multiple first downs with him on the field. With Miller in the game the Buckeyes managed 27 points. With Bauserman, the same personnel couldn't even manage a consistent threat of gaining yardage. It is time to move on – Bauserman simply isn't cutting it.
That said, I understanding not going to Guiton — Given what I just wrote, I think it is clear that I am not a Bauserman apologist. Though he was terrible, I will say that I understand why the Buckeyes stuck with him during a tie game starting a drive in the fourth quarter in their own territory. Though people were calling for Kenny Guiton, a third stringer that had a very rough camp and hasn't played a snap this season, Ohio State's hands were kind of tied with Bauserman. Though this team's offense seemed to have no chance at getting points with Bauserman at the helm, that drive started with Bauserman because he did prove in every game this season that he wasn't a threat to turn it over.
Sure, Bauserman ended up getting picked off on that drive on a deep attempt at hitting a big play to Philly Brown down the sideline, but what was the alternative? Bringing in a raw Guiton who turned it over a ton in fall camp on the road in a tie game at Nebraska with no plays under his belt? Bauserman was a disaster, but the coaches couldn't have been comfortable with the alternative, either. I don't blame them one second for sticking with Bauserman in that situation. Even after the interception, Nebraska drove 78 yards on four plays for the touchdown. I have a hard time pinning the go ahead touchdown – and the loss solely - solely on Bauserman, though he is the convenient scapegoat.
Blame the coaches for not recognizing they had to prepare other options — I don't understand how the coaches could have gone through the first five weeks of the season and not seen what Bauserman is. That said, the blame is completely on them for not preparing Guiton or other options at quarterback to play in that situation. Though the assertion of throwing in Guiton in a tie game deep in his own territory is borderline absurd in my mind, the coaches didn't help their cause by leaving Bauserman as their contingency plan. If Miller somehow can't go next week at Illinois, it simply cannot be Bauserman who starts. And if Miller can go, there better be another option at quarterback if he aggravates his injury. You can't have a Miller sprained ankle be the one thing that could send this team to a third-straight loss. We don't have to go back and remember what bringing Bauserman in during a close game at Illinois feels like, do we?
Props to Mike Adams — You have to admire what Mike Adams did. He stuck through his five-game suspension, did all the things right on the practice field and returned to the starting lineup in game six and had perhaps the biggest effect of any player on the team. The offensive line played perhaps its best game of the season, showing that the reinsertion of Adams was really the shot of life this unit needed. Adams played incredibly well and he has earned a whole lot of respect in my books. He would be one of my choices for captain next week and is instantly one of the best players on this offensive line. He made everyone else on that unit infinitely better one week after Michigan State's blitz made us question the offensive line's ability.
How do you not come away with a field goal? — With Ohio State clinging to an evaporating lead – now only seven points – the Buckeyes were threatening deep in Nebraska territory as the fourth quarter was beginning. With Bauserman leading the way, Ohio State was on the edge of what Fickell felt was kick Drew Basil's range. So instead of running it, like the team has blindly done all season, the drive ended with two incomplete passes by Bauserman. If I remember correctly, both pass attempts landed 15 yards out of bounds.
So what happened there? Instead of working clock and moving closer to a reasonable field goal attempt, Ohio State runs off no clock and is stopped on the verge of Basil's range. Instead of taking trying to extend the game back to a two-possession advantage, Fickell and his staff decided to punt. This is the point where I first thought Ohio State would lose, as it kind of reminded me of the USC loss at home two years ago. With a wearing defense, how does this staff not attempt a field goal? How does it turn its back on two downs where it could run and get in better position while wearing clock? That entire possession was an epic fail on ever level in my opinion.
When play calling is fresh, see what this team is capable of? — Watching the first half, it was hard not to think about how disappointing the team's loss to Michigan State was. Had the Buckeyes come out with a similar offensive game plan against the Spartans, maybe the team wouldn't have lost? Even if they would have the loss would have been a lot easier to accept for the fans in place of an unimaginative offense that all but seemed to hand Michigan State the victory. As terrible as the feeling of blowing a game like this on the road must feel for the fans, at least there is the solace that this team is capable of doing some big things and the future looks bright.
John Simon and Johnathan Hankins — These guys are a heck of a duo. All game they were dominating the Nebraska offensive line. The biggest surprise of the year has been Hankins, who probably couldn't be playing any better at this point. After having a questionable year agility-wise as a freshman, Hankins has been incredibly strong and surprisingly fast. The combination of Simon and Hankins has to be one of the best 1-2 punches on the defensive line in the Big Ten.
This is where weak teams fall apart — I was praising Fickell at the beginning of the game for having his team playing perhaps its most confident football of the year despite being so disappointing just seven days earlier. Not losing the squad now more than ever is Fickell's biggest concern. Yes, there are three losses, but this coach has to do what he can not to lose this team. Fighting through adversity is a fun thing to say to the media, but now more than ever is when this team is going to have to prove it is strong enough to beat it. A collapse isn't out of the question – avoiding that is where Fickell needs to be living at.
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