10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Colorado
Here are 10 of our biggest takeaways following Nebraska's 34-31 overtime road loss to Colorado on Saturday...
1. Of all the awful losses, this one was among the worst
Nebraska has lost plenty of gut-wrenching games over the past 20 years, so the final result of Saturday’s 34-31 overtime defeat was far from an anomaly.
What made it feel so different, though, was how desperately Husker fans wanted this one and the extents they went to try and help it happen.
Of the 52,829 fans who filled Folsom Field – Colorado’s first sellout in three years – nearly half were NU fans in red, once again creating one of the most unique settings for a college football road game.
But just when it seemed like Nebraska was going to put a good old-fashioned beat down on the Buffaloes like it did for decades as former conference rivals, the Huskers blew a 17-point halftime lead by allowing CU to score 24 points in the fourth quarter and steal the victory.
The pain was all over the faces of head coach Scott Frost and his players after the game, not only because of what the loss meant for them, but for what it meant for the fanbase that continues to support them like no other.
“We let our fans down and we let Coach Frost down,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “We wanted to win this game. We wanted this game. We had that mindset coming in and we lost, plain and simple… Obviously I feel terrible. We wanted to win this game.”
2. Blackshirts say fatigue wasn’t a factor, but Frost saw otherwise
For two quarters, Nebraska’s defense looked as good as we’ve seen it in maybe a decade. Then the second half happened.
While the offense failed to get anything going in the third and fourth quarters, the Blackshirts started giving up more and more as the game wore on.
Whether it was a 96-yard touchdown pass on a flea-flicker, getting torched on a double-move, or Colorado just marching down the field 10 yards at a time, NU’s defense seemed gassed at the end of the day.
After the game the players insisted that fatigue wasn’t an issue, saying it was just a matter of them not making the plays they needed to win. But Frost, and many others who watched the game, saw things a bit differently.
“We left the defense out there a lot in the second half because of the misfires on offense,” Frost said. “The defense looked tired on a few of those drives… There were a couple of times that we looked tired, but I don’t think that was the major problem today. We just had a hundred chances to finish that game off.”
3. The third quarter was one to forget
With its defense playing lights out, Nebraska’s offense just needed to keep its foot on the gas pedal to put Colorado away for good when it came back out after halftime.
Instead, the Huskers inexplicably imploded offensively in the third quarter, not only allowing the Buffaloes to hang around but also losing more and more momentum with every failed drive.
Of NU’s four possessions in the third quarter, it only ran 19 plays for 40 total yards, three first downs, and four punts. For comparison, CU ran 19 plays over three third-quarter drives but gained 109 yards, seven first downs, and scored its first touchdown of the game.
The defense giving up 24 points in the fourth quarter was obviously just as costly, but a case can be made that it was set up by how drastically things went south on offense in the quarter before.
“The guys were ready when they came out of the locker room,” Frost said. “Right from the start we didn’t get lined up for the first play right, so we had to burn the timeout. That wasn’t a good start. We killed two drives with penalties again… You know, we’ve got to have killer instinct about us and finish drives.”
4. Martinez took a step forward, but it still wasn’t enough
After a rocky start to the season last week, Martinez played much more like his old self on Saturday.
The sophomore finished with 356 all-purpose yards (290 passing, 66 rushing) and four total touchdowns, making multiple clutch plays with his arm and his feet.
But for every step forward Martinez made in the game, he’d take a step back with a costly mistake. He was sacked six times and had three fumbles, losing two, as well as an interception.
Many of Martinez’s struggles against South Alabama were chalked up not having a running game and dealing with numerous high snaps that threw off the entire rhythm of the offense. There didn’t seem to be many noticeable snapping issues vs. Colorado, aside from a low snap on the final offensive play of overtime.
Martinez had no interest in trying to place the blame on anyone but himself.
“I don’t care if it’s 5,000 yards over my head,” Martinez said. “Who gives a s**t? I have to make something happen.”
5. Washington proves his value to Nebraska’s offense
There’s no denying what having Maurice Washington available for a full game meant to Nebraska after his impressive performance at Colorado.
The sophomore was electric for the Huskers all game, rushing for a game-high 77 yards and catching four passes for a team-high 118 yards and a touchdown.
Included in those numbers were a 75-yard catch and score where Washington sprinted past the CU defense on the first play of a drive following the Buffaloes’ 96-yard flea-flicker touchdown.
Washington’s legal situation still lingers and won’t be going away any time soon, and plenty of critics will continue to bash Nebraska’s decision to allow him to play while facing a felony charge.
But as far as what happens on the football field is concerned, Washington proved his value time and again on Saturday.
“Maurice played well, obviously had some big plays,” Frost said.
6. Kicking game rollercoaster provided highs and lows
After missing the season opener and then being limited all week in practice with an undisclosed injury, starting place kicker Barret Pickering was a late scratch from Nebraska’s travel roster this weekend.
That left the Huskers scrambling to decide on a new kicker, which ended up being senior punter Isaac Armstrong on field goals and extra points and a combination of freshman Dylan Jorgensen and redshirt freshman William Przystup on kickoffs.
The kicker-by-committee strategy ended up working out OK for the most part, as Jorgensen and Przystup recorded touchbacks on four of their five kickoffs and Armstrong made all four of his PATs and his first field goal attempt from 26 yards out in the second quarter.
But it was Armstrong’s second field goal try on the final play of overtime that overshadowed everything else, as his kick from 45 yards out sailed wide right and never had a chance.
The kicker combination was serviceable, but there’s no question that Nebraska needs Pickering back as soon as possible.
7. Spielman shined, then disappeared
JD Spielman was every bit the playmaker for Nebraska in the first half, catching three passes for 92 yards – including a 65-yard touchdown on the opening drive – as well as an eight-yard rush.
Then, for whatever reason, the junior wide receiver stopped getting the ball. He only had one catch for 11 yards in the third quarter and then one for nine yards in the fourth.
Even worse, he was only targeted three times in the entire second half and overtime.
Spielman still ended up with a solid five catches for 112 yards and a score, marking the fifth 100-yard receiving day of his career (which are now the fifth-most in school history).
But Spielman is the caliber of player who needs to be more involved in the offense, especially when he shows how productive he can be when the ball comes his way.
“We didn’t get it JD enough,” Frost said.
8. Frost explains overtime play calling
After Nebraska’s defense did its job on the first possession of overtime and held Colorado to a field goal, the offense took over and had a chance to put the game away for good with a touchdown.
Instead, the Huskers were stuffed on two straight running plays and then Martinez was sacked for a seven-yard loss, leaving Armstrong to try a 45-yard field goal just to try and tie the score.
Frost admitted after the loss that he and his staff debated on their play-calling approach “for five minutes before overtime” and decided to start with what they felt were their two “best runs.”
Those two rushes were stopped for zero and one yard, respectively.
“I didn’t want to risk throwing an interception or losing the ball,” Frost said. “We picked two of the runs that we thought were the best. I knew before the series started that we didn’t have our kicker so it was just us trying to run the plays that would hopefully get us three or four yards…
“(Colorado) did a good job stopping them, they put us in third and long. I thought we called a safe pass, (but) just held onto the ball for too long. I don’t know what the odds would say with a backup kicker making the length of a field goal or going for it on fourth and 14, but that’s not a good situation to be in.”
9. Pass protection is a big problem
It’s not just that Nebraska once again had little if any success running the ball between the tackles on Saturday, but also that Martinez was under heavy pressure all game when he dropped back to pass.
After getting sacked twice last week vs. South Alabama, Martinez was dropped a whopping six times by Colorado.
Martinez was able to make the most out of several other protection breakdowns with some nice scrambles, but the lack of time he’s had in the pocket has thrown off the offense as much as anything.
10. Colorado’s Montez fires back at “dirty” Huskers
Nebraska’s comments during the week about the Colorado rivalry may not have seemed like all that much, but they apparently struck a nerve with the Buffaloes.
Quarterback Steven Montez was especially vocal after the game about his displeasure with the Huskers’ “trash talk” and even accused NU of “spitting” and doing other “dirty stuff” in piles after plays.
Montez said it felt like Nebraska’s players were almost too amped up for the game, which caused them to lose their focus down the stretch.
"I think they truly talked themselves out of the game,” Montez said. “You guys saw all of the crazy quotes earlier this week. Before the coin flip, they were talking trash. At the bottom of piles, they were spitting, doing dirty stuff. So they got a lot of what was coming to them."