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Ohio State shows new signs of life, and suffers all the more for it

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Nebraska 34, Ohio State 27.
Ohio State fans are not blind. They witnessed the Buckeye offense crawl into a hole and die at Miami. They watched its carcass dragged around Ohio Stadium last week by Michigan State. They saw the 10½-point line for this game in Nebraska's favor. They had to endure a whole new round of suspensions this week for players they'd expected back, but who may not play again this season and may not make any difference if they do. Honestly, they recognized that this is not a good team.

They were braced for disappointment, wary of false optimism, resigned to rebuilding. And still, their team found a way to knock their wind out with a swift punch to the gut.

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The only way that was possible was for the Buckeyes to demonstrate some signs of life early on, and against all odds, the offense looked not only sentient but kind of great. The opening drive of the night was a 56-yard march that ate up a little more than half the first quarter en route to a field goal. The second drive covered 80 yards, the final 32 on a touchdown pass from freshman Braxton Miller to tight end Jake Stoneburner. The third drive was one play: A 63-yard sprint to the end zone by Carlos Hyde, the Buckeyes' longest gain of the year by a mile. His second score of the night put Ohio State up 27-6 with less than 12 minutes to play in the third quarter.

At that point, Miller was 5-of-8 passing with a touchdown, a pass efficiency rating of 202.5 and 90 yards rushing — by all appearances, an actual quarterback coming of age in front of a primetime television audience, in a hostile environment, just in time to make something of this doomed season yet. In a battle of competing "collapse" memes, Nebraska's crumbling defense was beginning to look like an even less salvageable pile of rubble.{YSP:MORE}

All a ruse, of course, an elaborate prank designed by some puckish gridiron deity in search of a new way to smite the Buckeyes' last remaining shreds of hope in the cruelest possible fashion. Step 1: Miller fumbles, setting up Step 2: A quick, two-play Nebraska touchdown drive to cut the lead to 27-13. Step 3: Miller leaves the game with an ankle injury, forcing the Buckeyes to turn to senior Joe Bauserman to preserve the lead. Step 4: Nebraska profits.

After Miller's exit, Ohio State's final four possessions of the night went Punt — Punt — Interception — Punt. Bauserman finished 1-of-10 passing for 13 yards with a sack and an interception. On the other side, the Cornhuskers embarked on three touchdown drives covering 82, 72 and 78 yards for the lead. Down 34-27 and facing 4th-and-11 with a little over four minutes to play, the Buckeyes punted and never touched the ball again.

For drama, it was gruesome but effectively gripping. For the standings, it was sobering: Ohio State is 0-2 in Big Ten play, the first time it's lost two conference games in the same season since starting 0-3 back in 2004. Where Nebraska still very much controls its own destiny in the Legends Division, the Buckeyes are all but finished as contenders in the Leaders. For the future, their prospects for turning a corner are only as good as the prognosis for Braxton Miller's ankle.

But for now, nothing hurts worse than the fact that they just played their best football of the season for the better part of three quarters, and still limp away as losers.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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