The first win of the Scott Frost era will have to wait after Nebraska suffered a defeat in its season opener at the hands of the Colorado Buffaloes 33-28. Nebraska led at halftime 21-17 and kept it until a Colorado touchdown with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter gave the Buffaloes the lead for good.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
New coach, same turnovers
The arrival of Frost brought change in all aspects to Nebraska’s game. One issue from last year’s team that seems to have carried over from the last regime is the turnover problem. After turning the ball over 27 times last year, Nebraska gave away two fumbles on its first two drives and a costly interception in the fourth quarter. Those three turnovers cost the team 14 points and put the team in a hole too deep to get out of.
Not only did turnovers bereave Nebraska of chances to score, it also changed the momentum of the game entirely. After receiving the kick at the beginning of the game, Nebraska drove downfield before running back Greg Bell fumbled in the red zone.
Colorado then scored on the resulting possession, taking all momentum Nebraska gained on the opening drive. The interception in the fourth quarter came the play after Nebraska got a stop on fourth down. With under six minutes remaining, the interception signalled the change of momentum in the game that Nebraska would never reclaim.
Adrian Martinez’s debut comes with promise and worry
This section would be devoted to all of the feats that Martinez achieved in his debut. Throwing for 187 yards and a touchdown as well as running for another 138 yards and two touchdowns, makes for an excellent first start. However, after a Martinez rush late in the fourth quarter, Martinez was slow to get up and never re-entered the game. According to Frost, the early diagnosis is “semi-encouraging.”
The difference having Martinez at quarterback was noticeable after he was forced off. Martinez made a few plays that only a player of his caliber could make, such as his 41-yard touchdown rush in the first quarter where he juked a tackle in the backfield and then scampered the rest of the way to the endzone. Another moment of brilliance came on a 19-yard-completion in the second quarter to wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. where he broke a tackle in the backfield and scrambled to his left to find Morgan over the middle.
Backup quarterback Andrew Bunch played well, but there is no one on the current roster that can produce plays and make the offense run smoothly like Martinez. His health will be something to monitor this week, but after what was seen today, Martinez’s future is bright.
Nebraska’s pass rush is back
After only getting 14 sacks last year, there was a lot of talk this offseason focused on getting the defensive line up to snuff. The defensive line responded to the criticism by getting seven sacks Saturday. Junior defensive end Khalil Davis led the charge with two sacks on the day. Senior linebacker Luke Gifford and senior defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun each had 1.5 sacks as well. The last time Nebraska had seven sacks in a game was against Michigan in 2013. When asked about whether he had been part of a pass rush like today, Gifford didn’t think so.
“No. Never, and that’s what makes this defense so fun to play in,” Gifford said. “Coach (Chinander) is a wizard with it and that’s what makes it fun.”
If the front seven can continue to apply pressure it will help the defense immensely throughout the year. By being able to apply pressure when only needing to send four rushers, it leaves more players to defend against the pass, which was a problem for the team today. While the secondary still needs some work, the defensive line and linebackers are off to a great start in fortifying a defense that was statistically near the bottom of the conference last year.