LINCOLN — At the intersection of pride and lament stood Scott Frost on Saturday night.
The native son had just coached his first game at Nebraska and experienced just about everything a game can include short of spontaneous combustion. Big plays, bad plays, strange plays, boneheaded plays and, when his sparkling true freshman quarterback had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter, one scary play.
My goodness, was it fun, those nearly four hours of Nebraska-Colorado football. Even Frost had to admit it. Right up until a shaky fourth quarter when CU took a late lead, shoved all of NU’s mistakes in its face and rolled out of town with a 33-28 win while quarterback Adrian Martinez, his right knee wrapped in ice, limped off the field with assistance.
At that point, it was a lesson. A harsh one now, and depending on Martinez’s health, maybe going forward. Frost said he was proud of and “broken-hearted” for his team, but ready to see NU grow from a loss it could have avoided, too — even if backup quarterback Andrew Bunch is the guy running the show.
“When you’re trying to go from an average team to a great team, you don’t beat yourself,” Frost said.
He then rattled off all the ways in which Nebraska did just that.
Two fumbles that helped CU jump out to a 14-0 lead. A failure to convert two fourth-and-short plays in Colorado territory. Giving up multiple third-and-long conversions to CU quarterback Steven Montez, who threw for 351 yards. Eleven penalties, including a back-breaking unnecessary roughness penalty on the Buffaloes’ winning drive, when Colorado was about to face a fourth-and-24. Two throws from Bunch on NU’s final drive that were simply too far or high for NU’s top receiver, Stanley Morgan, to catch.
That negates 565 total yards, including 329 rushing yards. That wipes out 100-yard rushing days for Martinez (117) and Greg Bell (104), as NU, for the first time in school history, lost a home game while having two 100-yard rushers. That erases seven Husker sacks of Montez.
“This is no moral victory, by any means,” outside linebacker Luke Gifford said. “We expect to win every game we play and especially in our house. It’s unacceptable. We can’t have it. We cannot lose here.”
Said Frost: “Every time I thought we found every way to give the game away, we found more.”
And Frost hinted that NU (0-1) might have worked through some of those jitters had it played its game last weekend against Akron. Thunderstorms canceled it, so Frost was left wondering how Nebraska would start against the Buffaloes (2-0).
In front of 89,853 excited fans in Memorial Stadium, Nebraska showed season-opening jitters.
“Getting some nerves out,” right guard Tanner Farmer said.
The Huskers took the ball to start the game and marched to the CU 13, but Bell fumbled. Montez led Colorado to a touchdown in eight plays.
Martinez, whose immediate health status after the game was not disclosed by Frost, then fumbled two plays into NU’s next possession. CU recovered at the Husker 24 and drove the short field for another touchdown. Halfway through the first quarter, Nebraska’s 2018 season wasn’t much different from the end of 2017.
But NU didn’t panic. Nor did it change its run-based game plan, rattling off 21 straight points on drives of 79, 52 and 75 yards. NU ran for 243 yards in the first half — more than any full game total last season — and consistently had CU’s defense on its heels with a combination of basic inside zone runs, triple options and keepers from Martinez, who, though overly adventurous at times, did not disappoint.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound product of Fresno, California, sent red balloons flying with a 41-yard touchdown run around left end as he juked one Buffalo and outran two more defenders to the pylon, leaping into the end zone.
Left guard Jerald Foster said Martinez was smooth with the offense.
“I’m happy that Adrian came in and operated as well as he did,” Foster said. “He kept us nice and relaxed.”
Frost said he thought Martinez played “a great game.”
“Especially for his first game,” the coach said. “He’s going to be a really good player around here.”
NU’s defense, pushed around for two drives, struck back, too. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s aggressive game plan sent players at Montez in all manners of twists and blitzes. Montez made his share of plays — you throw 50 passes and you’re bound to — but took the seven sacks, the most notched by Nebraska since the 2013 Michigan game.
“That’s what makes this defense so fun to play in,” said outside linebacker Luke Gifford, who had 1½ of the sacks.
And yet, as the game wore on, Nebraska’s defense wore down. CU ran 34 plays in the first half and 51 in the second half. Martinez threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to receiver JD Spielman, who caught the ball behind two defenders and raced into the end zone, but NU’s offense otherwise sputtered with a missed Barret Pickering field goal and two failed fourth-down conversions. Martinez threw an interception, too, right after Nebraska had made a fourth-down stop of its own. Frost said he had put NU in a safe passing play and Martinez simply looked to the wrong side of the field.
Thanks to two CU missed field goals, Nebraska still clung to a 28-27 lead, and its offense had a chance to ice the game late. That’s when Martinez, on a quarterback run, got hurt. Bunch came in. Spielman dropped a Bunch pass on third down. Colorado got the ball back. And safety Antonio Reed, on a third-and-forever, picked up the costliest penalty of the game when he made contact with a CU receiver on an overthrown Montez pass.
Frost said he thought Reed was playing the ball.
“I don’t know if that’s a penalty or not,” Frost said. “Somebody smarter than me will have to decide that.”
On the next play, Montez found CU receiver Laviska Shenault, who caught 10 passes for 177 yards, for a 40-yard score behind NU corner Dicaprio Bootle. It was the game-winner and the gut punch.
Nebraska players mixed frustration and resolve after the game.
“I keep saying it. I’ll reiterate myself all day if I have to, but you can look at the stats and see that we are a good football team,” Foster said. “I’ll stand behind all these guys, every last one of them. They played their game. We did have problems, but that’s something that we can fix.”
In this, Foster sounded like his coach, Frost, who said NU won the battle up front and liked how the Huskers responded when down 14. The table was set, frankly, for all the things Nebraska fans wanted to be true. The tougher team. The more physical team. The better-conditioned team. Then came the fourth quarter, the mistakes, the Martinez injury and a feeling somewhere south of satisfied.
Frost’s demeanor wore all those competing emotions.
“I’m a competitor like all of these guys in the locker room, and for three quarters, I was having about as much fun coaching as I’ve ever had in my life,” Frost said. “Doing it back home.”
|Yards per carry||1.3||6.1|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
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