Ohio State's K. J. Hill Jr. (14) is tackled by Nebraska's Aaron Williams (24) and Luke Gifford (12) forcing a fumble that Williams recovered in the second quarter on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio. The Huskers would score on an Adrian Martinez touchdown run to take a lead.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — All Dwayne Haskins had was 2.4 seconds Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
The Heisman Trophy candidate and Ohio State quarterback had only just received the snap and stepped barely to his left before outside linebacker JoJo Domann crashed into him, forcing the ball out.
Domann had lined up right in the middle of the field before Haskins received the snap from the left hash mark. But on the blitz, running back Mike Weber missed Domann.
As the ball squirted out, it took a Husker roll from the Nebraska 31-yard line to the 36 before it was recovered by defensive tackle Carlos Davis.
The Husker roll continued as the offense then finished off what the fumble had started, marching 64 yards in four minutes before bringing the score to 16-14 in the middle of the second quarter.
Prior to its matchup with the Buckeyes, Nebraska had forced and recovered just three fumbles all year, the last one forced by Domann in the Huskers’ win against Bethune-Cookman. But against Ohio State, a title contender and the No. 10 team in the country, Nebraska needed all the help it could get in a 36-31 loss.
That help came in the form of three turnovers that Scott Frost’s team turned into 14 points.
“We were kind of struggling a little bit there early, they got the lead back and they were driving a little bit and JoJo comes in and gets the ball back and that not only changed the defense, it changed the offense,” safety Tre Neal said. “Those guys get the ball in good position, they get to develop a rhythm.”
It didn’t take long after that first fumble-turned-touchdown for the Huskers to do it again. Ohio State wide receiver K.J. Hill caught a short pass with plenty of open space down the right sideline, but linebacker Luke Gifford slapped the ball out of Hill’s right arm, and safety Aaron Williams recovered it at Ohio State’s 47.
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Then, for a team that had just 10 turnovers all season, Nebraska looked the part of a turnover machine, picking off Haskins in the end zone on Ohio State’s first drive back after a long 20-minute halftime. That next Nebraska drive, however, ended in seven plays and a punt instead of seven points and a kickoff.
“JoJo Domann’s giving us a real spark going out there and making plays for us,” Frost said. “There’s tipped balls that we have chances, hits causing fumbles that we had chances at. That stuff didn’t exist early in the year. You’ve got to have those things to win, and we’re starting to get it.”
When Ohio State didn’t turn the ball over, it usually found a way to reach the end zone. Punter Drue Chrisman was called on just four times, and the Buckeyes found pay dirt enough to leave Ohio Stadium with a narrow win.
But for a Nebraska team that recovered only three fumbles in 2017 — to accompany nine interceptions — it was a necessary change that kept the Huskers in the game.