Oct. 8, 2011
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – The fans who criticized Taylor Martinez all week and booed him before halftime were cheering wildly for him by the end of the biggest comeback in Nebraska history.
Martinez ran for a touchdown and passed for two others while bringing No. 14 Nebraska back from a 21-point second-half deficit, and the Cornhuskers defeated Ohio State 34-27 Saturday night in the first Big Ten game at Memorial Stadium.
Rex Burkhead scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 17-yard run with 5:10 left.
“Everyone wants to doubt him. Whatever,” coach Bo Pelini said of his sophomore quarterback. “You guys can choose to write whatever you want and attack him like the fans will, and now they’ll praise him.”
Ohio State (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) built a 27-6 lead behind freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, who sprained his right ankle in the third quarter and did not return. The Buckeyes’ offense went dormant with backup Joe Bauserman.
Miller ran for 91 yards and went 5 of 8 passing for 95 yards before he got hurt. Bauserman completed only one of his 10 passes the rest of the way.
Huskers star linebacker Lavonte David stripped the ball from Miller in the middle of third quarter to start the rally.
“That was a game-changing play,” Pelini said. “That was a huge play in the football game. He’s been doing it since he got here. He’s a heck of a football player.”
Then Martinez took over. He ran 18 yards for a touchdown, threw a 36-yard TD pass to Quincy Enunwa and tied it with a 30-yard catch-and-run to Burkhead after Stanley Jean-Baptiste intercepted Bauserman in his first game at cornerback after moving from receiver.
Martinez ran for 102 yards and was 16 of 22 passing for 191 yards for Nebraska (5-1, 1-1). Burkhead ran 26 times for 119 yards.
Carlos Hyde led the Buckeyes with 104 yards rushing.
The biggest deficit Nebraska had overcome previously was 17 points, most recently against Texas A&M in 2002.
Martinez’s performance was timely.
He lashed out Monday at fans and media who ripped him for throwing three interceptions in last week’s 48-17 loss at Wisconsin, and teammates lined up to defend him.
When he threw an interception late in the second quarter, boos cut through the rain at Memorial Stadium.
“He kept fighting,” Pelini said. “He led the team, and I was proud of how we played. That’s why he’s the starting quarterback right now.”
After time ran out, Martinez flipped the ball to the referee and fullback Tyler Legate embraced Martinez and then picked him up and carried him around.
“He was having fun, that’s for sure,” center Mike Caputo said. “Taylor was smiling and confident. He kept coming up to the offensive line and saying we’re going to win this game when we were down a couple touchdowns. His confidence was really high.”
Martinez said he didn’t care about the criticism he received during the week and that he didn’t know if Saturday’s game was his best performance as a collegian.
“If you say so,” he said. “You’ll write what you want.”
For Ohio State, the loss marked a painful end to yet another painful week. On Friday, the NCAA suspended wide receiver DeVier Posey for five more games and three other Buckeyes for one game for taking too much money for a summer job.
Offensive lineman Marcus Hall, defensive lineman Melvin Fellows and last year’s leading rusher, Daniel Herron, also missed Saturday’s game. They also must repay benefits after receiving pay for summer work not performed for a booster.
“We’ve got to get a few stops on defense,” Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said. “That’s what it comes down to. 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, part of life.”
An upset looked to be brewing in the first half, and the Buckeyes’ momentum continued to roll when Hyde scored from a yard out to give Ohio State a 27-6 lead early in the third quarter.
David, who made 13 tackles, changed the game with his biggest play of the night. As Miller fought for yards up the middle, he stuck his arms in and pulled the ball away from the quarterback.
Martinez scored two plays later, going untouched up the middle on a zone read to pull the Huskers to 27-13.
The Buckeyes did a good job containing Martinez in the first half, but the sophomore broke loose for 93 yards on the ground after halftime.
Martinez’s passing and decision-making had been skewered after the loss at Wisconsin, but he threw a perfect strike to Enunwa to pull the Huskers within a touchdown. Martinez freelanced in the backfield before dumping off to Burkhead, who dodged a tackler and went 30 yards for the tying touchdown with 7:35 left.
“I had to get around that guy,” Martinez said. “I got the ball to Rex, and he did a great job juking that guy.”
C.J. Barnett was called for a facemask on Martinez during the Huskers’ winning drive, and Burkhead ran for 22 yards before he broke free for the go-ahead score.
“That was crazy,” Burkhead said. “That was an unbelievable win all the way around and it feels good.”
The feeling was exactly the opposite in the Ohio State locker room.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” linebacker Andrew Sweat said. “I don’t know what the magical answer is. We just didn’t get the job done. It’s disheartening to give up that many points and give up a win when it was so close.”