It was a cool, crisp fall evening, and everything was going so well.
A week removed from a demoralizing 10-7 loss to Michigan State (which followed a 24-6 loss to a hapless Miami program two weeks earlier), Ohio State was putting it on a relevant, nationally ranked Nebraska team on its home turf.
The coaching staff, led by Luke Fickell after the sudden departure of legendary head man Jim Tressel, had learned a few lessons in the first five weeks of the season. The biggest lesson centered around the quarterback position, where the Buckeyes had settled on their uber-talented but equally raw true freshman — Braxton Miller.
He had his limitations, of course (chief among which was an offensive coaching staff led by Jim Bollman), and Miller entered the contest with just three total touchdowns on the year. By extension, the rest of the offense struggled, averaging just 23.8 points per game.
On average, the Cornhuskers offense had been nearly two touchdowns better coming into that night, which was why they were heavily favored.
But everything went Ohio State's way through two-and-a-half quarters.
Miller was having his best game, completing five of his eight passes for 95 yards, which included a 32-yard screen pass to Jake Stoneburner that went for a touchdown. He had also found his legs, running the ball 10 times for 91 yards. That complemented running back Carlos Hyde, who ripped off a 63-yard touchdown run in the first half.
All that, plus a defense playing its best game of the year, had the Buckeyes up 27-6 and completely in control midway through the third quarter.
Then Miller sprained his ankle with five minutes to go in the third, and all the momentum swung to the Cornhuskers.
It's hard to rationalize exactly what happened next, even eight years later. Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez became radioactive and melted the Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes coaching staff confused Joe Bauserman for a quarterback they could trust, calling more pass plays for him in four drives than they had for Miller in nine.
Bauserman's finished the game completing one of his 10 passes for 13 yards, one interception, and one rush for minus-one yard.
// side note //
At some point in the following eight years, Bauserman's Wikipedia page was updated as follows:
After struggling against the Miami Hurricanes, he was benched and Braxton Miller became the starter for the rest of the season. Miller then fell victim to injury in the match against the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Bauserman came in with Ohio State leading 27–13 in the third quarter. Bauserman tried valiantly to lead the Buckeyes back but in the end Ohio State fell to Nebraska, 34–27.– Joe Bauserman's Wikipedia Page
So... he tried valiantly to lead the Buckeyes back... from a 27-13 lead... We're 100 percent sure Bauserman wrote this himself, right?
// end side note //
Nebraska closed the game with 28 unanswered points, handing the Buckeyes their third loss of the season.
Ohio State went on to lose four more games that year, including a 40-34 defeat to Michigan, but the Buckeyes program ultimately won by landing Urban Meyer as head coach.
Fast-forward eight years to current day and Ohio State is preparing for a return trip to Lincoln this weekend. The Buckeyes have had one undefeated season, won three Big Ten titles and claimed the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship since that long, cruel night in Nebraska.
That game eight years ago and the one that takes place this weekend represent two ends of a spectrum. One end exemplifies a struggling, shell-shocked football team. The one you'll watch this weekend represents an elite program.