Around the end of the third quarter, the sun finally began to shine down on Scott Frost at Memorial Stadium.
His first two appearances as Nebraska’s coach were cloudy or rainy, and most of Saturday’s game was played under cloud cover. But by the end of the third, the sun finally broke through. Elsewhere around the country no other games were relatively close, so all eyes were on the Huskers.
Nebraska wasn’t quite ready.
The Huskers showed signs of what Frost wants his team to look like, but self-inflicted errors cost them a chance to make an early statement on a national stage. Instead, Colorado fans and players were the ones celebrating on their old rival’s field following their nail-biting 33-28 win.
In every aspect of the game, Nebraska showed signs of promise, but also inexperience. Nebraska’s new-look offense made plenty of highlight reel plays, but stalled in key drives down the stretch and was unable to put away Colorado when they had the chances to.
Nebraska’s defense looked revamped as well, getting through Colorado’s offensive line with ease as they sacked Steven Montez seven times. Montez, playing like a first-team All-PAC 12 candidate, wasn’t phased as he burned the Huskers’ secondary for 351 yards.
Still, issues that have plagued this program over the past 15 years bubbled up again Saturday afternoon.
Clock management issues? Nebraska’s offense was snapping the ball with 20 seconds left on the play clock with under five minutes to go.
Penalties? The Huskers committed 11 of them, including one that stalled their penultimate drive and another that put the Buffaloes in position for their game-winning score.
Late injuries? Adrian Martinez’s electrifying debut ended unceremoniously with a knee injury and walk-on Andrew Bunch was left with the reins on Nebraska’s final drive.
Even the final score of 33-28 was identical to the debut of former head coach Mike Riley in 2015, also losing on a touchdown in the final minutes against BYU.
Nebraska had plenty of season-opener jitters, fumbling on the first two drives and digging themselves an early 14-0 hole. In years past, that led to an inevitable blowout, but that was not the case today.
The Huskers regrouped and controlled the remainder of the half, with electrifying plays by Martinez helping them to a lead at halftime. The defense that was picked apart on the first two drives regrouped impressively and didn’t let Colorado score another touchdown until late in the third quarter. As Frost said afterwards, it was reminiscent to the defenses Nebraska had when he was a player.
Colorado proved to be the tougher team on Saturday. They took some hard hits and got back up and had enough composure to be in a position to win at the end. As much as Frost probably wishes he could, he can’t transform his team’s mindset overnight. It takes time and experience, just like it did for him at Central Florida.
While playing their first game under new coaching and new schemes against Colorado with a competitor like Montez was less than ideal for Nebraska, it is a chance for this team to learn on the fly. Much like how the team responded after their nightmarish start, it’s time to see how this team makes adjustments to some of the issues, namely turnovers and penalties in games moving forward.
“I think we’ve made some undisciplined plays and that’s what average teams do,” Frost said after the game.
In game one of the Frost era, the Huskers showed they have the talent to compete with anyone in their conference already. However, they still lack the mental toughness that other teams in the conference have in bunches.
In Nebraska’s first moment in the sun, they shrunk. The good news is that given their schedule, the Huskers will have plenty more opportunities to shine when the sun comes back around.