Tanner Lee admitted bouncing back from a tough loss can take time.
Mick Stoltenberg said the same.
The challenge outlined by Nebraska players and head coach Mike Riley on Monday centered on a need to bounce back quickly. After all, Ohio State rolls into Memorial Stadium on Saturday night as a second-straight top-10 opponent, and the Buckeyes have dominated the past month.
“You’re obviously being competitive and you want to win big games, so that game was tough,” Lee said of losing to Wisconsin. “But, I mean, we have to put it behind us. There really is no other option. So we’ll focus on that. Especially as leaders and captains, it is our job to steer the ship and make sure everyone is doing the right things and continuing to work hard and bringing a focus and motivation this week to get a big win.”
The Huskers, of course, tied UW early in the third quarter, but were outscored 21-0 and out-gained 223-56 over the final 25 minutes, 43 seconds of a 38-17 loss.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, rolled up 62 points against Maryland on Saturday afternoon, are averaging more than 658 yards of offense over their past four games and have scored 54 or more in three straight.
“If this week starts out wrong and we don’t prepare well right off the bat, it’s definitely one of those games that can get away from us,” Stoltenberg, the defensive tackle and captain said. “So we need to just step up and bring everyone along and make sure we’re on the same page. After things don’t go your way, it is obviously a lot harder to come and be motivated the next week and it’s something that needs to start with the players and with that leadership we have."
A year ago, the Huskers — unbeaten and ranked No. 7 in the nation — lost in overtime in Madison and then traveled to Columbus the next week and got decimated, 62-3. It stood as the beginning of a stretch in which NU lost four of its final six.
Now, the Huskers face the same pair of teams back-to-back from the comfort of home — though the Buckeyes still opened as 21-point favorites — and are trying to find a way to keep an already rocky start to the season from sliding further.
“I think it’s just the bond we’ve built from summer — it’s kind of a family atmosphere we’ve built in the locker room and I think it has helped us as we’ve gone through some adversity this year,” Lee said. “I think we will continue to work hard because we want to play hard for each other.”
They will need to against Urban Meyer’s team, which has outscored Maryland, Rutgers and UNLV a combined 120-7 in the first half the past three weeks.
“There’s not really much to say, I think, about the way they’re playing right now,” Riley said. “They’re playing at a high level since that one loss and outscoring opponents. They’re versatile and productive offensively in almost every category, near the top (of the Big Ten rankings) in everything. Same thing defensively, so it’s a major, major challenge for us.”
The Buckeyes have been a major challenge for everybody in the Big Ten, of course. They are 66-7 overall since Meyer took over in 2012, including 42-2 in conference play.
Outside of specific game preparation, then, Riley acknowledged it’s fair — and necessary — to consider where the program stands in relation to the league’s best. NU appears further behind UW than a year ago, and Paul Chryst improved to 26-6 overall (14-4 Big Ten) on Saturday night while Riley fell to 18-14 (11-9). Chryst has topped Riley in all three meetings since they took over their respective programs in 2015.
The Huskers didn’t measure up well against the Buckeyes last fall — Riley’s first matchup against Meyer — and face long odds in Round 2.
“I’ve experienced that before, as one team rises like that,” Riley said of the Buckeyes’ dominance under Meyer and status as the Big Ten’s standard of excellence. “They’ve been there for a while now, but as one team rises like that, you take a look and you either get better or you get left in the dust. (USC in the Pac-10) did that when Pete (Carroll) went in there and changed that landscape like that, and I think it made the whole conference stronger. I think you’re seeing that in this league.”