Nebraska vs. Buffalo Photo No. 25

The Nebraska defense pile onto a Buffalo player during the game against Buffalo at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

On Saturday, Nebraska played in unusually hot temperatures that threatened to halt any progress made from its 52-7 blowout over Fordham.

There is still some progress to be made, but the Huskers easily took care of business against a Buffalo team that some had on ‘upset’ alert.

Here’s the position grades from Nebraska’s 28-3 victory over Buffalo:

Quarterbacks: B+

Junior quarterback Adrian Martinez had his best performance so far this season. First, Martinez was accurate, completing 14-of-20 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns.  Martinez threw 14.8 yards per attempt, showcasing more pushing the ball downfield.

That was also with junior wide receivers Oliver Martin and Omar Manning both out before the game started. Instead, Martinez hit two 68-yard touchdown passes to senior wide receiver Samori Toure, but his best play of the afternoon was with his legs.

Tied 0-0 in the second quarter, Nebraska faced a third-and-five from its own 25-yard line. After Martinez’s offensive line broke down fast, Martinez made several Bulls linemen miss in the backfield before taking off for a 71-yard scramble to the Buffalo 4-yard line.

That highlighted the improvisation, one of his finest qualities on Saturday, that kept drives alive. The one knock on Martinez was his slow first quarter, along with some poorly timed throws, including a third-and-three in the second quarter that completely missed sophomore back Markese Stepp deep in Buffalo territory.

Running Backs: C+

Running backs are significantly held up by their offensive lines, and Nebraska’s offensive line didn’t do much. The backs were unproductive, but when asked to convert situations such as goal line touchdowns, they did their job.

Freshman Gabe Ervin Jr. had two rushing touchdowns, the longest being from two yards. Nebraska converted its red zone opportunities, but the running backs didn’t particularly impress.

Although the line was not great, the backs’ inability to hit holes fast helped Buffalo stick around in this game for a little bit longer than needed. Still, the failure of the ground game isn’t just on the running backs but the whole offensive unit.

Wide Receivers: B-

Two pieces, Manning and Martin, were missing from the wide receiver corps on Saturday, but the unit did a decent job of replicating production without those two.

Toure had just two catches, but both went for touchdowns on 68-yard plays. Still, Toure had a couple of drops that could have made him a much more consistent receiver in Saturday’s game.

The wide receivers’ targets were spread out with little drops from the rest, but no other explosive plays. Freshman wide receiver Zavier Betts had a great 44-yard touchdown catch that was called back due to holding.

The one significant downfall is that perimeter blocking, a key focus of any Frost team, was non-existent at points. In particular, sophomore wide receiver Wyatt Liewer missed several blocks on potentially big plays, which played a hand in an overall disappointing performance on the ground.

Tight Ends: B

Junior tight end Austin Allen had only one catch, leaving with an injury right afterwards. Still, the tight ends overall had a performance like the receivers. They were consistently making catches with freshman tight end Chris Hickman standing out Saturday.

Hickman got his first career catch and ended up with three catches for 90 yards. Hickman’s 54-yard run and catch on Nebraska’s final drive highlighted how useful Hickman was in the match-up against Buffalo.

The tight ends were still a threat while losing Allen, which is a good sign moving forward.

Offensive Line: C

This was by far the most disappointing performance of an otherwise dominating performance. The unit struggled mightily in run-blocking through all four quarters, as Martinez’s 71-yard run held up a stagnant ground game.

Besides Martinez’s run, Nebraska ran 41 times for 151 yards, or about 3.6 yards per carry. Even with the Martinez run, that wasn’t a credit to the offensive line, and more on Martinez making Bulls miss in the backfield before shooting up the field.

Nebraska’s ground game woes were largely irrelevant while on the pass block — the offensive line was a bit more serviceable defending its quarterback. Martinez helped mask some of those struggles with his scrambling, and overall improved pocket awareness, but there was still too much pressure given up. A holding penalty also negated a second quarter Betts touchdown.

Defensive Line: A+

Coming into Saturday, it was no secret what Buffalo was going to do. The Bulls were going to run and run, and then run some more. Nebraska’s defensive line was the first line of defense, and it didn’t yield an inch.

Buffalo ran 33 times for 135 yards, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Bulls were forced to abandon their ground game in the third quarter, running just 14 times in the second half. That included only six carries in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls, wanting to run the ball, were forced to air it out to put some second half points on the board. That’s when the edge rushers such as junior outside linebackers Pheldarius Payne and Caleb Tannor made senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease’s life a living nightmare.

One such pressure forced Vantrease into his only interception, and helped seal the game. Plus, junior defensive lineman Deontre Thomas was a fullback following the interception and was the lead blocker on a one-yard touchdown run by Ervin Jr..

Linebackers: A

The defensive line did its job, which was moving Buffalo’s offensive line and funneling the running backs into the linebackers. One of the central components of the Bulls’ gameplan was to avoid Husker senior outside linebacker JoJo Domann in the run game.

Domann had just five tackles, but his presence let sophomore inside linebacker Luke Reimer and freshman inside linebacker Nick Henrich feast. Reimer had 16 tackles, leading the team in that statistic, and snatched his first career interception in the fourth quarter.

The linebackers and defensive line were in sync on the ground game all day, never letting Buffalo establish any semblance of its known identity. In the air, Reimer’s interception was a part of a much-improved look where several potential big plays were broken up in the backfield.

Secondary: A

A common theme among all the defensive units is that they all earned at least an A-. The cornerbacks were no different, but taper off just a bit due to several third down lapses and losing a couple of one-on-one battles.

Junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, although he lost a couple of those third down conversions, proved why he was a preseason All-Big Ten cornerback Saturday. Taylor-Britt controlled his side of the field and Vantrease never got into a rhythm as he went 27-for-50 in the game, showing the rest of the cornerbacks held their end of the bargain as well.

The safeties completed one of Nebraska’s best defensive performances in Frost’s tenure. Explosive plays were held to a minimum, with the longest being a 30-yard run from senior running back Kevin Marks Jr. in the second quarter.

The lack of explosive plays hurt the Bulls heavily as they never drove into the redzone throughout the game. There were no big plays to potentially bail the Bulls out from struggling offensive movement, thanks to the combination of the safeties and cornerbacks.

Special Teams: F

For another week, the special teams earn another F. Yes, Nebraska freshman punter Daniel Cerni didn’t have any blunders, but there were different problems on Saturday.

Senior kicker Connor Culp continues on an unfortunately timed slide, going 0-for-3 on field goals on Saturday. That left nine points off the board, and a spot once thought to be reliable is now in potential trouble, a red flag going forward for a team looking to make some noise in the Big Ten.

Culp wasn’t the only black mark for the special teams, as there was another punt return fiasco. In the fourth quarter, Buffalo punted 35 yards to Taylor-Britt and, while Taylor-Britt did call a fair catch, freshman safety Isaac Gifford was pushed into Taylor-Britt. The ball hit Gifford and Buffalo recovered.

The special teams gets another F because, although Nebraska did better in field position, it still has bad gaffes that shouldn’t be happening to any team.

sports@dailynebraskan.com