No. 25 Nebraska football (1-0) will be looking to remain undefeated and secure its second win of the season this weekend against rival Colorado (1-0). However, the Buffaloes will be looking to do the same. Despite a 35-21 win, the Husker offense didn’t look like themselves against South Alabama in week one. Colorado won 52-31 against in-state rival Colorado State in head coach Mel Tucker’s debut, but they gave up 21 points to the Rams in the first half.
Colorado was victorious over Nebraska last year, winning 33-28 in Lincoln. However, quite a bit has changed since that day. Here are some things to watch for in Saturday’s showdown.
Last year, Nebraska sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez introduced himself to the college football world with a stellar debut against the Buffaloes. Martinez went 15-20 passing for 187 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He made an even greater impact on the ground, rushing for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He had the Huskers up 28-27 in the fourth quarter before injuring his leg on the infamous play where a Colorado linebacker appeared to twist his leg after the tackle. Martinez left the game and the Buffaloes took advantage, taking home the win.
This year, the Heisman candidate will have another chance to take down the Buffaloes with more experience under his belt.
However, the opponent isn’t the only reason this game is important for Martinez. He struggled in the season opener against Alabama, going 13-22 for 178 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. After having Heisman hype coming into the year, Martinez will need to have a much better performance not only to put his name back in the conversation, but to lead the Huskers to a win.
Defense causing turnovers
On the other side of the ball, Nebraska’s defense showed its potential to force turnovers against South Alabama. The Blackshirts forced five turnovers and scored two touchdowns in the game, making their presence felt. Forcing turnovers has been a focus for the Huskers ever since head coach Scott Frost and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander were hired, so that focus finally coming to fruition may be a good sign for the direction of this defense.
Nebraska didn’t force any turnovers against CU in 2018, but getting a few takeaways on Saturday may put the team in a great position to win.
Chinander’s unit isn’t the only defense in this game capable of forcing turnovers. Before coming to Boulder, Tucker was the defensive coordinator at Georgia, which was one of the best defenses in the country. Tucker and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers have already proved the Buffalo defense can create takeaways, as Colorado forced four turnovers against Colorado State in week one, including a fumble return for a touchdown.
While offense might be the main attraction in this game, the winner might be determined by which defense is able to create more turnovers.
Nebraska weapons vs CU weapons
As aforementioned, Saturday’s game will likely be filled with offense. This is due to the sheer amount of offensive firepower on both sides. Both teams have talented running backs that will rack up yards, like Nebraska’s Maurice Washington and Colorado’s Alex Fontenot. Washington had just six carries in the season opener after returning from a half-game suspension, but he still found success, taking those six carries for a total of 39 yards. Washington will likely have a bigger role against Colorado, which should generate some highlight plays.
Meanwhile, Fontenot is just now making a name for himself after being stuck as a backup last year. Despite having only 11 carries last season, Fontenot had 19 carries for 125 yards and three touchdowns in the Buffaloes’ season opener.
However, the biggest offensive threats on both teams might be their dangerous wide receiver duos. For Colorado, juniors Laviska Shenault Jr. and K.D. Nixon have already shown to be a dynamic pairing. Last season, the duo combined for 1,754 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns, with Shenault Jr. accounting for 1,126 of those yards and 11 touchdowns. Shenault Jr. is clearly the bigger threat, but Nixon is also worth paying attention to.
For Nebraska, junior JD Spielman and freshman Wan’Dale Robinson have the opportunity to show they are one of college football’s best wide receiver duos. Spielman had two catches for 36 yards receiving last Saturday, and he made one of the most explosive plays of the game on a 76-yard punt return touchdown.
Robinson also turned heads as he made his Husker debut. After having hype surrounding him all offseason, he didn’t disappoint in the season opener. Robinson had four rushes for 21 yards, three catches for 33 yards and 77 kick return yards. Overall, he racked up 131 all-purpose yards.
With talented players at every offensive skill position for both teams, there are sure to be some big plays on Saturday as Nebraska tries to avenge last year’s loss.