Buckeyes hang on to win 26-17 over struggling Huskers

Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
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LINCOLN, Neb. – A nine-point win over the last-place team in the Big Ten West might not satisfy Ohio State’s fan base.

Buckeyes coach Ryan Day was just fine with it.

C.J. Stroud threw for 405 yards and two touchdowns, Ohio State’s defense came up with a pair of stops after Nebraska had pulled within six points, and the sixth-ranked Buckeyes got out of Memorial Stadium with a 26-17 win on Saturday.

“We’re going to watch it and think we could have won by three touchdowns or more if we clean some things up,” Day said. “But (Nebraska) is a good team, this is a good defense. We knew that coming in, I said that, and I believe that. It’s great to get wins on the road. It’s not easy to do.”

The Buckeyes’ nation-leading offense managed only two field goals in the second half, allowing the Cornhuskers – a two-touchdown underdog, according to FanDuel Sportsbook – to make it a one-score game until Noah Ruggles kicked a 46-yard field goal with 1:29 left.

Ohio State (8-1, 6-0 Big Ten) won its 24th straight game against a conference opponent but couldn’t have impressed the committee that made it No. 5 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.

“Some things weren’t clicking right, and they put it on me to execute the passing game, and I felt we did that well,” Stroud said. “We have to start executing and finishing drives.”

The Huskers (3-7, 1-6) dropped their fourth straight game and are assured of a fourth consecutive losing season under Scott Frost and a fifth in a row overall.

“I hate losing more than anybody in that locker room,” Frost said. “But I just love being the coach here, I love these kids. They battled through a lot. This is going to pop at Nebraska. It just is. We’re doing too many good things right. We have too many good young players. We’re putting ourselves in position to win too many games and just not making a play or catching a break.”

The Buckeyes played without top receiver Garrett Wilson for an undisclosed reason but got a school-record 15 catches from Jaxon Smith-Njigba for a career-high 240 yards.

Stroud completed 36 of 54 passes but threw two interceptions after having gone four straight games without being picked off.

His 3-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave and Smith-Njigba’s 75-yard catch-and-run for a TD helped put the Buckeyes up 20-10 at half.

The Huskers scored late in the third quarter to pull within 23-17 and got the ball right back when Myles Farmer intercepted Stroud’s deep ball intended for Olave. Nebraska drove to the 13, but Chase Contreraz missed a 30-yard field goal attempt.

The Buckeyes were forced to punt and Nebraska began its next possession at its 10 with 6:11 left. Adrian Martinez started it with a 21-run but threw three straight incomplete passes to bring on the punter.

Martinez was 16 of 31 for 248 yards and a touchdown, with his lone interception coming in the final minute. He ran 18 times for 51 yards and a score.

Nebraska’s Samori Toure had four catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.

“I’m proud of our guys for continuing to fight and the way we had each other’s backs out there and stuck together through everything, through the noise,” Martinez said. “The brotherhood is strong here at Nebraska and we believe in each other, so we’re going to keep pressing on.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Ohio State: The Buckeyes played an uninspired second half of offense but held on to avoid their first loss to a team with a losing record since 2011.

Nebraska: The Huskers have lost 16 straight against ranked opponents, and special teams hurt them again. They missed two field goals and had a 13-yard punt that led to an Ohio State touchdown.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Ohio State could get dinged by AP Top 25 voters, and the CFP committee also might do a double-take after the flat performance.

MARTINEZ PLAYING HURT

Frost disclosed after the game that Martinez has been playing with a broken jaw since late September and high ankle sprain since mid-October. Martinez decided to not have season-ending surgery on his jaw so he could continue playing.

PREGAME ‘MEETING’

An hour before kickoff, about a dozen players from each team jawed at each other during a brief confrontation in the area where Nebraska was warming up. A Nebraska player shoved an Ohio State player in the chest before staff from both teams broke things up.

UP NEXT

Ohio State hosts Purdue next Saturday.

Nebraska visits Wisconsin on Nov. 20.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.