They could only sit and watch.
Thousands of Nebraska fans stayed in their seats, stunned in silence as Colorado fans and students rushed the field, then quickly organized near several sections that were completely red. Most of them waved, some with all five fingers and others with just one.
Hardly anyone in the stands budged.
This wasn’t supposed to be the ending for a fanbase that invaded Boulder from all directions hoping to see revenge against Colorado for giving Scott Frost a loss in his debut last season. The fans exceeded expectations, outnumbering their black and gold counterparts. Their noise was so deafening Colorado had to use a silent snap count, and still was flagged for two delay of game penalties and multiple offsides calls.
But after a collapse that was all too predictable yet even more stunning, all they could do was sit in silence as they were let down once again.
Frost was smart and correct to take a moment in his postgame press conference to apologize to the fanbase for his team’s performance down the stretch, turning a 17-0 halftime lead into a 34-31 loss in overtime. It was the least he could do in the moment.
“I’ve only been a part of a few as tough as that one,” Frost said. “I can’t thank Nebraska fans enough, they were a difference in that game. I promise you guys this is going to get better.”
There was an abundance of excuses for Nebraska’s 33-28 loss to Colorado last September. It was the team’s first game of the season, their starting quarterback left the game with an injury and Colorado had far more experience on both sides of the ball.
This year, there is no explaining how a team that played in more close games than any other team in the conference crumbled under pressure yet again. There’s plenty of blame, though, and it starts at the top.
Frost has preached the importance of discipline and execution, yet he was nearly in the middle of the dogpile of players trying to recover Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.’s fumble. His actions cost Nebraska a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that pushed the Huskers from the 43-yard line back to their own 28-yard line.
In a game where Colorado needed almost every second to come back and tie the game, losing 15 yards of field position for something so unnecessary is inexcusable.
Nebraska’s coaches and players have talked ad nauseum about an improved culture throughout the program. It showed in the team’s play late last season, but all progress appears erased two games into 2019.
Penalties are still ending drives and extending others. The offense is still squandering opportunities to put games away early. The defense is still struggling with inexcusable mistakes leading to big plays. To be fair, most defenses are not prepared to defend flea-flickers from the four-yard line.
Throughout the game, there were signs of growth and improvement. Nebraska’s secondary handled Shenault Jr. significantly better than it did one year prior, and made several key pass-breakups in the end zone to end a pair of fourth-quarter drives.
Nebraska’s front seven whiffed on some key tackles late, but still held the Buffaloes to 89 rushing yards.
On offense, sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez and Nebraska’s running game woke up after a lethargic performance last week with an 179-yard afternoon. Yet they struggled when it mattered most, picking up one yard on two carries to start overtime.
In an afternoon of simultaneous progress and regression, the most surprising change was observed outside Nebraska’s locker room following the game.
Martinez and senior linebacker Mohamed Barry were the only two players to face the media at the podium, and both showed a side rarely seen by the public eye.
Martinez, always the calm, cool and collected, was visibly angry throughout his press conference. He raised his voice at random times throughout his answers, and in his final response he had a rare slip-up, saying, “regardless of where the snap is, who gives a s***?” before quickly apologizing.
Barry, the always-vocal leader of the defense, could barely be heard through his crackling voice after the game. He called his performance one of his worst games, and took responsibility for his unit’s collapse.
“Finishing games is the biggest thing we have to do,” he said. “Our best players have to play their best ball in the second half.”
Outside of the angry locker room, the rest of Folsom Field was still in jubilation. Loud music and shouts of joy could be heard outside Colorado’s locker over an hour after the game ended while fans still didn’t want to leave the field.
The next few weeks will be very telling for the narrative of year two of the Scott Frost era. The Huskers return home next week to face Northern Illinois, which upset them in 2017 and hung tough with No. 13 Utah Saturday. Following that, Nebraska will try again to win on the road for the first time since 2017 at Illinois before facing No. 5 Ohio State at home to end the month.
There were plenty of concerns and encouraging signs on Saturday, but the true impact of today’s collapse will not be seen for at least another week. As for now, Nebraska will head back east with its head down and tail tucked between its legs.
An offseason of hype waved away by an unruly crowd of unwelcome hosts.