The Nebraska Cornhuskers have experienced good, bad and ugly moments over the course of the 2011 season – but never have they felt all three as much as they did Saturday night versus the Ohio State Buckeyes. After all, being down by 21 points in front of your home crowd -- a week after getting absolutely killed by your other conference rivals -- is as ugly as it gets.
But then, the good kicked in, and behind some clutch performances by key stars the Huskers made a stand.
There have been a lot of takeaways from this weekend’s happenings ranging from just how toxic Bo Pelini’s attitude can be to, the redemption of Taylor Martinez to, just how much potential the offense has. The most important ones, however, are what make up this week’s edition of The Good, Bad and Ugly.
You wouldn’t think that this would be the case coming out of a game where Nebraska had to muster its largest comeback in school history to escape with a much-needed home win, but there was a lot of good on display on Saturday night. The Huskers exhibited heart, grit and the never-say-die attitude that they’ve become renowned for over the last few years in the face of legitimate hardships.
Key to this effort was certain players on both ends of the field.
First and foremost, no story about Nebraska’s victory can start without mentioning linebacker Lavonte David, who undoubtedly salvaged the program’s year with one especially clutch play. Midway through the third quarter, down 21 points and with his team having just recorded another three-and-out, he ripped the ball out of Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s hands and returned possession to his team.
From there, the Husker offense -- led by Martinez -- realized that the onus was on them. Taking charge, on the very next drive, Martinez hopped, skipped, and jumped into the end zone untouched to record the first of what would ultimately be four unanswered scores by the offense. Running back Rex Burkhead also rebounded nicely after putting up merely 10 yards in the first half to finish with 119 yards and a touchdown for the day. Similarly, the offensive line awakened at halftime and proved instrumental to both Martinez and Burkhead’s exemplary play in the latter stages of the game.
The only thing worse than getting destroyed by the Wisconsin Badgers 48-17 just one week earlier, was being down to the Buckeyes 27-6 early in the third quarter. Even the most loyal of Husker fans had to have deemed the season a colossal failure before the now infamous turnover that changed everything.
For folks who have been watching this Nebraska team operate through six weeks, though, the massive hole that the Huskers dug themselves into should not have come as a shock. This team has developed a reputation of sorts for playing with fire, and it’s only a matter of time before they can’t muster up the biggest comeback in school history and, subsequently, get burned.
They came back against the Fresno State Bulldogs. They came back against the Washington Huskies. And, obviously, they came back against the Buckeyes. One of these times, the Huskers won’t be able to come back against a team that they really shouldn’t have had any trouble beating.
There is no more night-and-day, stark contrast that can be made than one comparing the play of David to every single component of the Nebraska secondary not named Alfonzo Dennard. Critics of the defense have been harping on this point for weeks and yet, amazingly enough, this problem has still not been addressed.
Ciante Evans and Aaron Green was absolutely horrible over the course of the game, and it was their inability to do well, anything, that ultimately accounted for Ohio State’s final touchdown of the game. Then with the season on the line and all signs regarding the secondary pointing to a self-implosion, Bo Pelini and Co. opted to trot out ex-receiver Stanley Jean-Baptiste and insert him in the corner slot.
Suddenly, presto-chango, everything was different. Jean-Baptiste swatted away a pass, shrugged off a horrendously bad unnecessary roughness penalty, and came through with one of the marquee defensive plays of the night in the form of a big fourth quarter interception.
Needless to say, you’ll be seeing a lot more of this guy in the coming weeks.
So, even though the secondary play was undoubtedly the ugly of this week’s match-up, one good thing did come out of it – the emergence of Jean-Baptiste.