Cody Cousino / Photo editor
LINCOLN, Neb. — Ohio State football players and coaches had their sights set on Saturday’s game at No. 16 Illinois before they even boarded a plane back to Columbus following the disappointment of last Saturday’s game at Nebraska.
For two-and-a-half quarters of the Buckeyes’ game against the No. 14 Cornhuskers, it appeared that OSU had possibly turned a corner in the 2011 the season.
OSU ran out to a 27-6 lead against Nebraska, scoring on their first drive to silence the Memorial Stadium crowd of 85,426. The Buckeyes continued to pile the points on from there. Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Bollman said he had seen significant improvement in his team’s practices leading up to the game and wasn’t surprised to see the team succeeding against Nebraska for large parts of the game.
“It’s hard to put your finger on one thing because the guys worked real hard in practice,” Bollman said. “You could see some more production. You could see some guys improving. (Freshman quarterback) Braxton (Miller) showed a lot more confidence, which was really good.
“In the end, we weren’t good enough.”
Miller, who was 5-of-8 passing for 95 yards and a touchdown with 91 rushing yards as well, exited the game with an ankle injury in the third quarter with a Buckeyes’ lead still intact, but momentum had already shifted to the home team.
Nebraska’s now-famous second-half rally, which saw the Cornhuskers score 28 unanswered points, resulted in a 34-27 win. The comeback was the largest in Nebraska football history.
Since the loss, OSU players and coaches have said they’re confident about this weekend’s game against Illinois. That was the message to members of the media just minutes after the historic loss to Nebraska too.
“We’re about to start into our divisional schedule,” sophomore wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown said. “So, we’re just going to move on and try to get to the Big Ten Championship game and try to win out the rest of these games.”
After the loss to Nebraska, Brown said the confidence level was still high in the OSU locker room.
“We fought hard out there. We did good out there,” Brown said. “We know what our defense can do, so we should be good going against (Illinois).”
OSU junior tight end Reid Fragel said that having people doubt his teammates for the past several weeks has been frustrating, but said that he also remains confident.
“We know as a family and as a team what we can do and what we’re capable of,” Fragel said.
The Fighting Illini are 6-0 on the season, but first-year OSU head coach Luke Fickell said his team has already faced comparable adversity in recent times.
“These guys are resilient. They’ve been through a lot,” Fickell said. “It’s going to come down to their commitment to each other. They’ve got a lot of pride in what they do. They’re going to have to call upon their pride and their pride in this university.”
Senior left tackle Mike Adams returned from a five-game suspension and made his 2011 debut at Nebraska. After the game, Adams said the team still has plenty to play for.
“Kudos to Nebraska — they played good enough to win the game,” Adams said. “We just have to get better and keep going. I can’t wait to keep on rolling through these next weeks and get some wins.”
Fickell agreed, saying there’s only one way to get overcome disappointment in football.
“That’s get back out there and do it again,” he said.
Saturday’s game at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium kicks off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on ABC.