No. 5 Ohio State starts slow before cruising past Nebraska in Big Ten opener

It had been 301 days since No. Ohio State last played a football game.

Sometimes, it showed in a 52-17 victory over visiting Nebraska in Saturday's belated season-opener at Ohio Stadium.

No, this wasn't the juggernaut some Buckeyes fans might have envisioned when coach Ryan Day said in the spring that he might have a once-in-a-lifetime team.

Ohio State's defense missed tackles and got gashed far more often than it did last season. The Buckeyes' running backs couldn't get untracked for most of the game.

But one part of Ohio State's game didn't look the least bit rusty, and that was more than enough. Justin Fields picked right up from last year when he was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Ohio State Buckeyes running back Master Teague III scores the touchdown during the first quarter against Nebraska at Ohio Stadium. (Photo: Joseph Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports)

Fields completed 20 of 21 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. His only incompletion came on a deep ball to Chris Olave that the receiver couldn't hold onto when he got hit in the end zone. Fields also ran for a 17-yard score.

It was, as expected, a surreal opener. There were more cardboard cutouts – 4,770 according to Ohio State – than spectators, as only players' relatives were permitted to watch. A total of 1,344 people were inside the Horseshoe, the smallest “crowd” in the venerable stadium's 98-year history.

The Ohio State marching band played on the stadium scoreboard but wasn't in the stadium. Nor was Brutus Buckeye, about which Fox broadcaster Gus Johnson jokingly voiced outrage during a halftime visit to the press box.

But at least the Buckeyes played, something they had to fight for after the Big Ten initially canceled the fall season.

After all the waiting to play, the game's start brought back the bitter memories of how last year's season ended. Just as Clemson needed only four plays to go the length of the field for its game-winning touchdown in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Nebraska went 75 yards in the same number of snaps, including a 47-yard run by Luke McCaffrey, to take a 7-0 lead.

Ohio State answered with an 11-play touchdown drive that included a fourth-and-5 conversion to tie it and took the lead on a 42-yard pass from Fields to Garrett Wilson late in the first quarter.

But Nebraska answered with an 11-play, 78-yard drive to tie it with 8:24 left before halftime. At that point, the Huskers had outgained the Buckeyes 181-171.

Ohio State regained the lead on a 34-yard field goal by Blake Haubeil after confusion on a fourth-and-1 play resulted in a penalty.

The Buckeyes' defense then forced a three-and-out to give the offense a chance to score again, and it capitalized. Master Teague scored on a 6-yard carry for his second touchdown to make it 24-14.

Ohio State took the second-half kickoff and drove 75 yards for a score, the last 17 on a run by Fields that included a nifty spin move, and the rout was on. If there was any doubt about that, it ended when cornerback Sevyn Banks recovered a fumble by quarterback Adrian Martinez and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown to make it 38-17.

Field's second touchdown pass came on an acrobatic catch by freshman Jaxon Smith-Njigba in which he contorted his body to get a foot inbounds in the back of the end zone.

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