LINCOLN, Neb. — This was supposed to be a huge celebratory event in a state with no pro sports teams to follow, and a place where Nebraska football is always the biggest deal going.
The Cornhuskers’ first home game as a member of the Big Ten, hosting mighty Ohio State, was expected to be right up there with the Burwell Big Rodeo and the 1974 move to the presidency by native son Gerald Ford.
But when the Cornhuskers fell behind by 21 in the third quarter, a historic night appeared very unlikely.
Nebraska (5-1, 1-1) then grabbed the momentum after an Ohio State turnover and scored four straight touchdowns for a stunning 34-27 win, completing the biggest comeback in school history. Rex Burkhead hurdled into the end zone from 17 yards out with about five minutes to play for the winning touchdown.
In front of an announced crowd of 85,426, Ohio State built its significant lead behind the strong play of freshman quarterback Braxton Miller. But the Buckeyes lost their mojo when Miller left the game with an injured leg late in the third quarter, and a full-fledged meltdown ensued.
Senior Joe Bauserman replaced Miller but went just 1-of-10 passing with an interception. Ohio State, which had 246 yards in the first half alone, had less than 40 yards of offense after Miller left the game.
The Buckeyes fall to 3-3 overall and start 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 2004 season.
Ohio State got the ball to start the game and settled in on a seven-minute scoring drive after taking a delay of game penalty on their first play. Miller hit Corey “Philly” Brown on a 21-yard gain, passed 11 yards to Zach Boren, and ran the ball three times on scrambles out of the pocket.
The Cornhuskers got a 35-yard kickoff return from Ameer Abdullah, who leads the nation in that category, and started at its own 46-yard line. A personal foul penalty on the Buckeyes provided most of the progress as Nebraska moved to the OSU 33, where Brett Maher kicked a 50-yard field goal to tie the game with a little more than five minutes left in the first quarter.
As the rain picked up in intensity, the Buckeyes put together an 80-yard drive to take a 10-3 lead. Miller broke loose for 12 yards to get Ohio State some room to operate, then shot through the Nebraska defense on a 24-yard run on a third down play.
Moving from the Nebraska 32-yard line, Miller threw a screen pass to tight end Jake Stoneburner at about the 39, and Stoneburner sprinted down the Nebraska sideline for the touchdown.
As the first quarter ended, Nebraska had the ball and moved across midfield to a fourth-and-one at the OSU 41. The Buckeyes stuffed Burkhead running out of the wildcat formation, and Ohio State took over on downs. After a penalty pushed the Buckeyes back to the 37, Carlos Hyde got the call on the next play, and burst through a big hole in the line on a 63-yard race to the end zone. Hyde finished the night with 104 yards on 12 carries.
Basil’s kick after the Hyde touchdown gave Ohio State a 17-3 lead with about 13 minutes left in the first half.
A 29-yard run by Miller moved the ball to the 18, where Basil kicked a 35-yard field goal on the final play of the half for a 20-6 advantage.
Ohio State made it 27-6 early in the second half with a scoring drive aided by a Nebraska holding penalty and a 27-yard completion from Miller to Brown. The touchdown came on a one-yard run by Hyde with nearly 11 minutes left in the third quarter.
Nebraska got a big break midway through the quarter when Miller fumbled on a play where he had picked up a first down. Nebraska recovered the ball at the OSU 24. Two plays later, Martinez raced in from 18 yards out to cut the lead to 27-13.
Miller got injured on Ohio State’s next series. Bauserman replaced Miller, but OSU went nowhere and had to punt the ball back to Nebraska.
Martinez completed passes for a couple substantial gains, then lobbed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa to pull the Huskers within 27-20 as the third quarter neared its end.