For about three quarters, the idea of a Big Red takeover at Folsom Field seemed like a good idea.
The thousands of Husker fans who flooded into Boulder, Colorado made an impact early, causing delay of game penalties for Colorado as their raucous cheers filled the stadium.
The cheers continued into the fourth quarter and overtime, but they weren’t from the Husker fans. Instead, the Colorado faithful witnessed a late-game collapse from Nebraska (1-1), which squandered a 17-point halftime lead in a 34-31 overtime loss to Colorado (2-0).
“I told the team, I put this on me,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said after the game. “We’ve got to find a way, up 17-0 at halftime, to win the game. Offense had chances in the third quarter to put the game away and didn’t.”
The first half was an undisputed success for Nebraska as the Huskers roared out to an early 17-0 lead.
On offense, sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez lived up to his preseason hype, completing 9-9 passes for 180 yards and adding another 45 yards on the ground. He threw a 65-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver JD Spielman in the first quarter and ran in a five-yard score in the second quarter.
The Husker defense locked down Colorado as well, holding the Buffaloes to just 84 yards. The Blackshirts looked dangerous rushing the quarterback, collecting three sacks. They even got a turnover in their favor, as senior cornerback Lamar Jackson made an athletic play to pick off Colorado quarterback Steven Montez.
The Huskers went into the locker room with a 17-point lead, and with the second-half kickoff being in their favor, they looked well on their way to a dominant victory over their historic rival.
Even the third quarter did little to dispel that notion, even as Colorado got on the board with an 11-yard rushing TD from Jaren Mangham. Four straight punts on offense came back to hurt the Huskers in the fourth quarter as their big lead vanished in one play.
Pinned back to its own four-yard line, Colorado deployed the rarely seen flea-flicker play to great effect. Nebraska bit on the fake, and 14 seconds later, Colorado wideout K.D. Nixon was in the end zone. The 96-yard score was the longest in Colorado history, but it was quickly matched by Nebraska.
Sophomore running back Maurice Washington was Nebraska’s most efficient running back all game, as he finished with 195 all-purpose yards on 19 touches. Martinez looked his way for a swing pass on first down, Nebraska secured the edge and Washington rumbled 75 yards for a quick score.
Busted coverage came back to hurt Nebraska once again, as a 57-yard pass for the Buffaloes gave way to a seven-yard score from Mangham. Four minutes later, Colorado tacked on a field goal to tie the game at 24-all.
“We were better than that team and in the second half we just didn’t finish,” senior linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “[Finishing games] is the biggest thing we have to do. Our best players have to play their [best] ball in the second half.”
Martinez led the Huskers down the field to take a 31-24 lead, but Montez quickly answered with a 71-yard drive which gave Nebraska 46 seconds to break the tie. Martinez was unable to win the game in regulation, as his deep pass was intercepted by a Colorado defender.
The Husker defense did its job in the first half of overtime, holding the Buffaloes to a field goal. Nebraska’s offense showed no signs of life in the extra period, as Washington gained one yard on two carries before Martinez went down for a sack.
Out trotted senior punter Isaac Armstrong, who connected on a 26-yard attempt in the first half. With the stakes much higher this time, his 48-yard attempt was doomed from the get-go, and its eventual landfall brought a crushing Nebraska flop to an end.
“There were a couple times we looked tired [on defense], but I don’t think that was the major problem,” Frost said. “We just had 100 chances to finish that game off and didn’t.”
Martinez finished the game 16-26 for 290 yards and added another 66 yards on the ground, as he scored four touchdowns over the course of the game. However, he lost two fumbles and threw an interception, something which weighed on him afterwards.
“We know that good teams can’t turn the ball over that much and expect to win the game,” he said.
After blowing their chance at the first road win of the Scott Frost era, Nebraska must regroup and refocus, and that effort begins with its starting quarterback.
“I told the guys in the locker room, remember this feeling and let’s not feel this again,” Martinez said. “This stuff will happen but good teams will bounce back.”