COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With five minutes left in the game and Ohio State clinging to a six-point lead, J.K. Dobbins burst through a hole between center and right guard and rumbled untouched 42 yards for a touchdown and some breathing room.
The breakaway by the Buckeyes' tailback was hugely satisfying for coach Urban Meyer, considering the running game has been absent for the past month, most notably in the inexplicable upset loss to Purdue two weeks ago. He harped on it with his team in the days afterward.
Dobbins ran for a season-high 163 yards and two more touchdowns as No. 8 Ohio State rallied in the second half and then weathered a late Nebraska score to win 36-31 on Saturday.
"It was great to get back to our old ways," Dobbins said. "We knew what we could do."
It wasn't only Ohio State's running game that showed up again. Its depleted and much-maligned defense — missing three starters in the secondary and prone to giving up big plays — staged a second-half stand.
Down 21-16 at half after the Huskers (2-7, 1-5 Big Ten) turned two Ohio State fumbles into touchdown drives, the Buckeyes (8-1, 5-1, No. 10 CFP) rallied in the second half. They forced five straight punts and held Nebraska to a field-goal when a drive stalled at the 1.
"We had every chance to in the world to win that game," Nebraska coach Scott Frost said.
After the field goal, Dobbins broke off his run to cap the next series. Nebraska's Adrian Martinez threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to JD Spielman to pull the Cornhuskers within five with 3 minutes left, but Dobbins pounded away for two first downs to run out the clock.
"The biggest thing is to get that darned bad taste out of your mouth from two weeks ago and win the game," Meyer said. "It was a close game against a team that was hitting its stride now."
HASKINS GRINDS IT OUT
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. didn't have a great day, but he got the job done.
After nearly flawless performances early in the season put him in the Heisman Trophy conversation, he was 18 for 32 for 252 yards Saturday with a pair of touchdowns, including a 42-yard scoring toss to J.K. Dobbins in the first quarter . But he also fumbled twice and threw an interception.
"We cost ourselves with a couple of fumbles and a couple of miscommunications," Haskins said.
His 18 completions gave him 242 for the year and broke the single-season school record of 240 set by J.T. Barrett last season.
For a team that lost six a row for its worst start in the program's 129-year history, Nebraska's improvement is astonishing.
Martinez is getting better every week and bested Haskins. He was 22 for 33 for 266 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 72 yards and two more scores.
Running back Devine Ozigbo ran for 86 yards and a score.
"A lot of things had to happen to get a team that would go toe-toe with a top-10 team," Frost said. "Six weeks ago we went to Ann Arbor (Michigan) and played a team like that and we had no chance. We walked out of there with our tails between our legs. Now the guys are banding together and fighting and going blow-for-blow with a team like (Ohio State)."
The win won't look impressive on paper, so Ohio State is unlikely to gain ground.
Nebraska: The Huskers are a different team than the one that started the season with a home loss to Troy and 46-point defeat at Michigan.
"We can play against any team in the country, and that includes Ohio State," Martinez said, "This thing is taking off."
Ohio State: The Buckeyes survived three turnovers while bouncing back from the stunning loss at Purdue. The running game and defense are showing signs of recovery for the stretch run.
Nebraska: hosts Illinois on Nov. 10.
Ohio State: visits Michigan State on Nov. 10.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy