COLUMBUS — With five minutes left and Ohio State clinging to a six-point lead, J.K. Dobbins burst through a hole between center and right guard and rumbled untouched 42 yards for a touchdown and some breathing room.
The breakaway by the Buckeyes’ tailback was hugely satisfying for coach Urban Meyer, considering the running game has been absent for the past month, most notably in the inexplicable upset loss to Purdue two weeks ago.
Meyer harped on it with his team in the days afterward.
Dobbins ran for a season-high 163 yards and two more touchdowns as No. 8 Ohio State rallied in the second half and then weathered a late Nebraska score to win 36-31 Saturday.
“It was great to get back to our old ways,” Dobbins said. “We knew what we could do.”
It wasn’t only Ohio State’s running game that resurfaced. Its depleted and much-maligned defense staged a second-half stand despite missing three starters in the secondary and being prone to giving up big plays.
Down 21-16 at half after the Huskers (2-7, 1-5 Big Ten) turned two Ohio State fumbles into touchdown drives, the Buckeyes (8-1, 5-1, No. 10 CFP) rallied in the second half.
They forced five straight punts and held Nebraska to a field goal when a drive stalled at the 1.
“We had every chance in the world to win that game,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said.
After the field goal, Dobbins broke off his run to cap the next series. Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to JD Spielman to pull the Cornhuskers within five with three minutes left, but Dobbins pounded away for two first downs to run out the clock.
“The biggest thing is to get that darned bad taste out of your mouth from two weeks ago and win the game,” Meyer said. “It was a close game against a team that was hitting its stride now.”
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. didn’t have a great day, but he got the job done.
After nearly flawless performances early in the season put him in the Heisman Trophy conversation, he was 18-for-32 for 252 yards Saturday with a pair of touchdowns, including a 42-yard scoring toss to J.K. Dobbins in the first quarter. But he also fumbled twice and threw an interception.
“We cost ourselves with a couple of fumbles and a couple of miscommunications,” Haskins said.
His 18 completions gave him 242 for the year and broke the single-season school record of 240 set by J.T. Barrett last season.
For a team that lost six a row for its worst start in the program’s 129-year history, Nebraska has shown amazing improvement.
Martinez is getting better every week and bested Haskins, going 22-for-33 for 266 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 72 yards and two more scores.
Running back Devine Ozigbo ran for 86 yards and a score.
“A lot of things had to happen to get a team that would go toe-toe with a top-10 team,” Frost said. “Six weeks ago we went to Ann Arbor (Michigan) and played a team like that and we had no chance. We walked out of there with our tails between our legs. Now the guys are banding together and fighting and going blow-for-blow with a team like (Ohio State).”
The win won’t look impressive on paper, so Ohio State is unlikely to gain ground.
NEBRASKA: The Huskers are a different team than the one that started the season with a home loss to Troy and 46-point defeat at Michigan.
“We can play against any team in the country, and that includes Ohio State,” Martinez said, “This thing is taking off.”
OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes survived three turnovers while bouncing back from the stunning loss at Purdue. The running game and defense are showing signs of recovery for the stretch run.
NEBRASKA: Hosts Illinois on Saturday.
OHIO STATE: Is at Michigan State on Saturday.
No. 8 Ohio State 36, Nebraska 31
Nebraska 7 14 0 10 — 31
Ohio State 16 0 14 6 — 36
NEB—Ozigbo 1 run (Pickering kick), 9:56
OSU—J.Dixon 42 pass from Haskins (Haubeil kick), 5:11
OSU—Dobbins 10 run (Haubeil kick), 1:51
NEB—Martinez 2 run (Pickering kick), 4:52
NEB—Martinez 2 run (Pickering kick), 4:52
OSU—Dobbins 3 run (Haubeil kick), 5:39
OSU—Campbell 9 pass from Haskins (Haubeil kick), 1:43
NEB—FG Pickering 18, 7:46
OSU—Dobbins 42 run (run failed), 4:52
NEB—Spielman 17 pass from Martinez (Pickering kick), 2:57
First downs 27 23
Rushes-yards 49-184 40-229
Passing 266 252
Comp-Att-Int 22-33-0 18-32-1
Return Yards 23 52
Punts-Avg. 7-35.42 4-48.25
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 6-2
Penalties-Yards 5-44 6-46
Time of Possession 33:13 26:47
RUSHING—Nebraska, Ozigbo 20-86, Martinez 20-72, Washington 7-16, Spielman 1-6, Morgan 1-4. Ohio St., Dobbins 23-163, Weber 9-91, McLaurin 0-0, Campbell 2-(minus 4), (Team) 3-(minus 10), Haskins 3-(minus 11).
PASSING—Nebraska, Martinez 22-33-0-266. Ohio St., Haskins 18-32-1-252.
RECEIVING—Nebraska, Morgan 7-87, Spielman 6-61, Stoll 3-17, M.Williams 2-21, Allen 1-41, Washington 1-20, Ozigbo 1-13, Reimers 1-6. Ohio St., J.Dixon 5-96, Campbell 4-31, Farrell 3-33, Hill 2-39, Dobbins 1-22, McCall 1-12, Victor 1-10, Weber 1-9.
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