Nebraska football’s defense had its best performance of the season, leading the way en-route to the team's second consecutive victory. The Blackshirts held the Buffalo Bulls to just three points, the lowest total since the Huskers’ 24-3 victory over then No. 9 Michigan State on October 29, 2011.
“All week we prepared, because we knew it was going to be won in the trenches,” junior defensive lineman Damion Daniels said postgame. “We knew that they were going to come in here and try to try us up the middle, and we [were] quick to knock that out.”
The Huskers were quick to stomp out the Bulls’ game plan, holding the team that rushed for 312 yards in its season opener to just 135 yards on 4.1 yards per carry.
Buffalo started off the game with a strong drive offensively, consistently gaining positive momentum running the football and driving down to Nebraska’s 28.
However, a holding penalty and a false start moved the Bulls back to Nebraska’s 45, well out of field goal range, and quelled any threat of a touchdown to start the game.
Nebraska also moved the ball well on its opening drive, but a poor finish kept the game at 0-0. The Huskers had a key loss early in the drive when junior tight end Austin Allen took a big hit and left the game with an injury. For a unit that was already down junior wide receivers Omar Manning and Oliver Martin, this was a big blow to the passing game.
The Huskers drove down to the red zone, but the Buffalo pass rush got to junior quarterback Adrian Martinez on third down and the Huskers were forced to settle for a field goal. In what would prove to be unfortunate foreshadowing, senior kicker Connor Culp doinked a 32-yard kick off the right upright.
The game would remain scoreless through the end of the first quarter, with the offensive breakthrough appearing to come for Nebraska on the first play of the second. On a fourth-and-three, Martinez found a wide open wide receiver in senior Samori Toure, who ran into the endzone untouched.
However, in another unfortunate foreshadowing, the play was called back after an offensive pass interference call on sophomore wide receiver Wyatt Liewer, who was judged to have been blocking a defender more than a yard past the line of scrimmage.
The first big offensive play for the Huskers came on a pass protection breakdown on a third-and-five, where the Buffalo blitz swarmed Martinez, who was forced to improvise. Martinez’s ingenuity was on full display, as he avoided the initial sack, ran into his own offensive lineman, and somehow found a huge hole past the line of scrimmage, weaving his way through the secondary down to the Buffalo two.
“Around the 35-yard line I started doing the “Madden” tricks where you start zig-zagging and hoping the guy is losing track of you,” Martinez said postgame. “I’ll hear about it [in the locker room] for sure, it was a nice play, but it would’ve been nicer if I would’ve scored.”
Martinez’s run set up the first career touchdown for freshman running back Gabe Ervin Jr., who plunged into the end zone from two yards out.
Nebraska looked to keep the offensive momentum going and did so with a spectacular touchdown catch by freshman wide receiver Zavier Betts. On a high, deep pass by Martinez,
Betts tipped the ball in the air over Buffalo sophomore cornerback Mark Davis Jr., and caught the ball behind the falling Davis before running into the endzone.
For the second time in the game, the touchdown was called off due to a penalty. A clear holding was called on redshirt freshman offensive lineman Bryce Benhart, who pulled a defensive lineman to the ground to prevent a likely sack.
Nebraska would get the ball once more in the half, after a mammoth 81-yard pooch punt by senior quarterback and former punter Kyle Vantrease.
On the ensuing possession, Nebraska would get the big touchdown pass it had been missing all season. Toure beat the deep coverage, and Martinez hit him in stride for a 68-yard touchdown to go up two possessions just before the break.
“They gave those looks against Wagner, and in practice when I got those looks I would start smelling the endzone,” Toure said postgame. “When I lined up I knew if everything went right I would get a touchdown.”
Buffalo made a late scoring push after Toure’s touchdown, but junior kicker Alex McNulty’s 52-yard field goal fell short, giving the Huskers a 14-0 halftime lead.
The first Nebraska drive of the second half was similar to the opening drive of the first. After getting down into Buffalo territory, pass protection failed on third down, leading to another missed field goal by Culp.
Buffalo picked up some early momentum on its opening drive, with senior running back Kevin Marks Jr. breaking off a game-high 30-yard run for the Bulls, setting Buffalo in the red zone for the first time all game. Buffalo’s drive from that point was short-lived, however, as a costly penalty killed all hopes for a touchdown.
Thankfully for the Bulls, this time the drive ended in points as McNulty made a 45-yard field goal for their only score of the game.
Buffalo failed to capitalize on the momentum gained after stopping Nebraska on its next drive, punting it back to the Huskers. Nebraska similarly had its drive stall, but put Buffalo in a deep hole, pinning the punt at the two-yard line.
The Bulls were making solid work out of the shadow of its own endzone, getting a first down to the sixteen-yard line. On the following play, the first play of the fourth quarter, sophomore linebacker Luke Reimer tipped a Vantrease pass to himself for an interception return down to the one yard-line.
Ervin Jr., led by lead blocker junior defensive tackle Deontre Thomas, who was playing his first snap at fullback, put the Huskers up 21-3 with a one-yard plunge.
“I was super excited, I’ve never played offense in a game before,” Thomas said postgame. “Coach Frost asked in practice if I wanted to play fullback, so when we actually did that in a game I was pumped.”
Buffalo missed another field goal with six minutes remaining, setting up an opportunity for the Husker dagger.
Nebraska struck instantly with Toure’s second 68-yard touchdown of the game.
The Huskers got into the red zone once more on the game’s final drive, with a third touchdown called back by an illegal forward pass penalty and a third Culp missed field goal ending the game and finalizing the 28-3 score for the victorious Huskers.
Nebraska now turns its attention to old Big 12 foe No. 4 Oklahoma, who is coming off a 75-0 blowout of Western Carolina. The showdown in Norman marks the first time these historic rivals have met since the 2010 Big 12 Championship game.