As the page turns on the addition of a short chapter of a storied rivalry, head coach Scott Frost and Nebraska hope to take the next step by ending a troubling trend.
Ten years after its last trip to Boulder, Colorado, Nebraska is looking to pick up its first road win of the Frost era and return the favor in giving Colorado’s new head coach Mel Tucker the first loss of his tenure.
The excitement of Frost’s debut was quickly dampened in Nebraska’s first game last season, as Colorado pulled off the upset with a touchdown in the final minutes of the game. The loss was the first of a six-game streak that kept the Huskers from reaching a bowl game for the second consecutive season.
One year later the Huskers are hoping a win on the road can be a springboard for a big season, and wash the taste of an uninspired performance in week one out of their mouths.
The Huskers were never in doubt of losing to South Alabama, but struggled to move the ball on offense and turned the ball over three times in their 35-21 victory.
“This week was a lot better,” Frost said about practice. “Defense had a good week, offense was leaps and bounds better. I’ll feel a lot better about things if we play the way we practiced this week.”
As Nebraska learned the hard way last season, three turnovers are not a recipe for success against Colorado. The Huskers coughed up fumbles on their first two drives of the game that put them in an early 14-0 hole. An interception late in the fourth quarter set up Colorado’s game-winning drive, and three failed fourth down conversions also proved costly in the 33-28 loss.
In Nebraska’s season-opening win last week, the turnover margin ended in its favor thanks to two fumbles and three interceptions. Despite being out-gained in yardage 314-276, it was an encouraging performance for a defense that will take any momentum it can get going into Boulder.
The Blackshirts will have their hands full with Colorado’s three-headed monster of senior quarterback Steven Montez, junior wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. and sophomore running back Alex Fontenot. Montez and Shenault Jr. were a constant problem in last year’s game, connecting for 10 completions, 177 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Fontenot only appeared in two games as a freshman, but finished this year’s season opener with 125 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
On defense, Colorado returns a significant amount of starters from last season, but is learning a completely new scheme under Tucker, who was hired as Colorado’s head coach after being the defensive coordinator at Georgia for the previous three seasons.
Tucker and new defensive coordinator Tyson Summers will also have their hands full with a hungry Nebraska offense loaded with weapons that went mostly unused in week one.
Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez is looking to bounce back after a mediocre 178-yard performance, which also led star wide receiver JD Spielman to a quiet afternoon with just two catches for 36 yards. Martinez is also looking to utilize freshman wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and junior tight end Jack Stoll more frequently after both had impressive moments last week.
The Huskers will look different in the backfield on Saturday as well, with sophomore running back Maurice Washington expected to play the entire game after being suspended for the first half of last week’s game. He finished with 52 total yards in the second half.
The biggest question mark for Nebraska going into Saturday will be at kicker, where returning starter Barrett Pickering did not play in the season opener. Freshman walk-on Dylan Jorgenson handled kicking duties instead, making all five extra-point attempts, but he did miss a 31-yard field goal at the end of the first half.
Frost said on Thursday morning they have been trying to determine an emergency kicker in practice during the week, with punter Isaac Armstrong and sophomore safety Lane McCallum taking reps throughout the week. McCallum previously was the backup kicker at the Air Force Academy in 2017.
"We'll see," Frost said when asked about who will be kicking Saturday. "We've got to make a decision."
There has been a lot of talk about a “revenge tour” for Nebraska this season, something that started with a late-night tweet last week from senior linebacker Mohamed Barry. Starting with Colorado, the Huskers will face seven opponents that have won their most recent matchup. Despite that talk, Frost remained adamant he is not on board with that mindset.
“It’s not about that for us,” Frost said. “It’s not about what happened last year. It’s not about a lot of the things fans are making it into. It’s about us going out, being focused and playing well and seeing if we can come out with a win.”
The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT and can be viewed on FOX.