Nebraska’s 34-31 loss to Colorado was a rollercoaster of emotions, as the Huskers started up 17-0, Colorado came back, then the Huskers nearly held on time and time again. Nebraska never trailed in regulation, but ended up on the losing end after missing a field goal in overtime.
In a game this up-and-down, it can be difficult to know what you should be thinking. Here are some takeaways from the game:
Blackshirts are still good
Well, let’s start with the positives.
Many fans were worried about Nebraska’s defense not being able to deliver against a tougher opponent after forcing five turnovers against South Alabama. However, the Blackshirts showed they won’t be pushovers this year.
One might look at the final stats from the game and think the opposite. Colorado put up 464 yards on Nebraska and scored 34 points, even more than they had in last year’s matchup in both categories. Make no mistake, the Husker defense gave up plenty of big, crucial plays. They allowed Colorado’s longest play ever, giving up a 96-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker. Busted coverages and missed tackles led to many huge plays for the Buffaloes and allowed them to come back into the game.
Despite these mistakes, the heartbreaking loss isn’t on the Blackshirts. In fact, Nebraska’s defense did everything it needed to do to allow the Huskers to leave Boulder with a victory.
Nebraska shut out the Buffaloes for the majority of the game, with Colorado’s first score coming with 1:42 left in the third quarter. Up until that point, the Blackshirts dominated. The Buffaloes had 84 total yards in the first half, including zero rushing yards. Senior cornerback Lamar Jackson intercepted Colorado senior quarterback Steven Montez in the first half, something the Huskers couldn’t do in last year’s loss.
Even as the Colorado offense started to heat up, the Blackshirts did their best to keep the Buffaloes at bay. Before Colorado’s first touchdown, Nebraska forced the Buffaloes to punt on their first two drives of the half. However, as the offense continued to stall, Nebraska’s defense began to struggle.
The Blackshirts had their biggest struggles on the first two drives of the fourth quarter. Colorado junior wide receiver K.D. Nixon, who was on the receiving end of the 96-yard touchdown, was left wide open after the flea-flicker caused confusion amongst the defense. On the next Colorado possession, the Huskers left a receiver wide open down the field, which led to a 57-yard gain that put the Buffaloes on Nebraska’s seven-yard line. Freshman running back Jared Mangham easily made his way into the endzone on the following play.
However, not much else can be blamed on the Blackshirts. Colorado tied the game at 24 with a field goal on its next drive, but Nebraska’s defense wasn’t put in a great position as a Martinez fumble allowed Colorado to start the drive on the Huskers’ 20-yard line.
The Buffaloes tied the game again with a touchdown on the last drive of regulation, but the fatigued Blackshirts did all they could to prevent it. The Huskers forced two third-down situations early in the drive, including one that turned into a fourth and short. The Buffaloes picked up both, and the touchdown came on a great pass from Montez that was well-covered.
In overtime, the Blackshirts held Colorado to a field goal, which was a good result considering the Buffaloes started at Nebraska’s 25-yard line. However, Nebraska could not take advantage.
Nebraska’s defense could have had a better game, but throughout the contest, it was clear that the Blackshirts have improved.
Offense still has questions to answer
In the first half, it seemed Nebraska’s offense was back to the level it was last season. Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez had 225 total yards and two touchdowns through two quarters, surpassing his 184-yard, zero-touchdown game against South Alabama last week. After putting up 17 points in the first half, it seemed that the Huskers were about to run away with the game.
Then, the offense began to stall in the second half. Martinez went 3-7 for 24 yards in the third quarter, along with just nine rushing yards. The sophomore also took three sacks in the quarter after not being sacked a single time in the first half. The Huskers also couldn’t get the running game going, gaining just 26 yards on 10 carries in the period.
The offense was able to get in the endzone twice in the final quarter of the game, but that success was negated by two turnovers. After sophomore running back Maurice Washington took a short pass 75 yards to the endzone, Martinez fumbled in Nebraska’s territory on the Huskers’ next drive. Meanwhile, Colorado scored touchdowns on its first two drives of the fourth quarter, and tied the game up at 24 after the aforementioned fumble.
The Husker offense did well to respond, moving the ball 75 yards and scoring a touchdown on the next drive to put Nebraska up 31-24. However, that would be the last score of the game for the Huskers.
The kickoff unit recovered a Shenault Jr. fumble on the ensuing kickoff, giving Nebraska a chance to put the game away for good. The Huskers couldn’t take advantage of this opportunity, going three-and-out to give the Buffaloes the ball back with just under four minutes to go.
After CU tied the game, Nebraska had one last chance to put the game away in regulation with 46 seconds left. Instead, Martinez threw an interception, sending the game to overtime after Colorado ran the clock out.
In overtime, Nebraska’s offense had an opportunity to win the game with a touchdown, or tie it up with a field goal. Washington gained one yard on two rushes, which was followed by Martinez taking a sack on third down to set up a 48-yard missed field goal.
On paper, it seemed the Husker offense played extremely well, racking up 469 yards and scoring all four Nebraska touchdowns. However, the glaring issue is that Martinez and the rest of the offense could not capitalize on their opportunities to put the game away. Whether it was the questionable play calling or the players’ inability to execute, the Husker offense still has questions to answer before they can be considered among the NCAA’s best.
Nebraska isn’t there—yet
As we all know by now, Nebraska came into the season with a lot of believers. Martinez was looked at as a Heisman candidate, and the Huskers were ranked No. 24 despite a 4-8 campaign in 2018. The narrow win against South Alabama caused some doubt amongst fans, and a blown 17-0 lead today surely has caused some to have a lot less faith.
Now, it would be an overreaction to completely give up on Nebraska and believe it won’t find any level of success this year, but it became clear this game the Huskers might not be as good as advertised.
Colorado is a good team, but the Huskers had chance after chance to win the game. Last year, Nebraska was derailed by an injury to Martinez late in the fourth while the Huskers had the lead. It was also Nebraska’s first game under Scott Frost with a new roster and a new system. This time around, there is no excuse. The Huskers fell apart, conceding a game that a top-25 team should have been able to win.
The talent, coaching and many other elements are there, but Nebraska has not yet been able to back it up.
This could very well change over the course of this season, as the Huskers could still improve mightily over the 10 games left to be played. However, right at this moment, the Huskers aren’t playing like a team that belongs in the top 25.