All week in Lincoln, Nebraska, the weather was reminiscent of early autumn. The temperatures hovered around the 60s and 70s, but that won’t be the case come Saturday — with an expected high temperature of 97 degrees for kickoff of Nebraska football’s showdown against Buffalo.
That caused concern for Nebraska football head coach Scott Frost with regards to his team’s preparation before Saturday’s game.
“We are going to adjust warmups a little bit to make sure we do not spend too much time before the game,” Frost said at Thursday’s media availability. “We got the guys as prepped for that as we possibly can. I hope the fans take care of themselves when it gets that hot in the stadium.”
Despite the extreme temperatures, the Huskers have already had experience in similar conditions. In Champaign, Illinois, Nebraska played to a 30-22 loss to Illinois in the heat, but Frost said Thursday that the heat didn’t play a factor in the loss.
Another game with high temperatures could favor the Huskers, as Frost mentioned that their depth could play a benefit when Nebraska’s starting rotation gets fatigued to the heat.
Nebraska can’t control the weather but can control its own fate against Buffalo on Saturday. Buffalo’s offense, although losing star running back Jaret Patterson to the NFL, remains as potent as ever.
The focus of the Bulls is its ground game with senior running back Kevin Marks Jr. and junior running back Ron Cook Jr. Former Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold left for Kansas after last season, but first-year head coach Maurice Linguist retained Leipold’s 2020 squad’s identity in the 69-7 thrashing of Wagner.
Buffalo will run as much as it can but what cements the offense together is senior quarter Kyle Vantrease. Vantrease, though not asked to do a lot with his arm in his starts, has proven to sling it when asked upon.
In the Mid-American Conference championship in 2020, Vantrease completed 69% of his passes on 42 attempts and threw for 353 yards in a 38-28 loss to Ball State. That performance came with Patterson rushing for just 47 yards.
“I think their quarterback is really good,” Frost said. “They got a really good running back, got a transfer receiver that looked pretty solid.”
Another component of Buffalo’s air attack is Eastern Michigan senior transfer wide receiver Quian Williams. The Bulls lost their top two wide receivers and top tight end target from last season but Williams is hoping to fill that void.
Williams hauled in five catches for 96 yards in the 69-7 win over Wagner, the most productive Buffalo receiver in that game. Although only a one-game sample size, there is an already apparent connection developing between Vantrease and Williams.
Buffalo’s offense, with its combination of wanting to establish the run and its most productive receiver being a transfer, shares similarities to Nebraska’s own offense. Unlike Buffalo, Nebraska’s ground game hasn’t proven itself yet to be a threat.
One area in particular that Nebraska could benefit from is more outside runs, which can create big play opportunities with its athletes out in space. As seen throughout Frost’s tenure, perimeter blocking is vital for any wide receiver to get on the field and 2021 is no different.
“A mark of a good team is when receivers are really blocking downfield,” Frost said. “I thought we could have been better than we were last Saturday. Some of that was just confusion of assignments...but that is something that we are continually working on.”
Perimeter blocking can tip the scales back towards Nebraska this weekend if its receivers consistently win those battles. That’s easier said than done, as the Huskers will need a full 11-man effort to execute those types of plays.
Wide receivers remain the biggest piece in the Huskers aerial attack but a couple of new tight ends have made their mark early on.
Two wide receiver to tight end conversions have stepped up in place of junior tight end Travis Vokolek and freshman tight end Thomas Fidone, both out with respective injuries. Junior tight end Chancellor Brewington scored his first touchdown last Saturday against Fordham while redshirt freshman tight end Chris Hickman has found his way onto the field.
Hickman hasn’t caught a pass this season yet but should be the number two tight end against Buffalo, barring a Vokolek return. According to Frost, Vokolek and junior receiver Oliver Martin remain questionable to return against Buffalo.
“We needed those guys to step up and they’ve answered the bell,” Frost said.
With absurdly high temperatures in September, all Nebraska can do is charge forward to take on Buffalo. There are many unknowns about Linguist as a head coach, but his veteran-laden team won’t back down from the challenge of playing at Memorial Stadium.
“They really run and hit on defense. We only have one game tape to go on but they looked great in their first game,” Frost said. “Our guys are prepped for a battle.”