Final take: Saturday delivered a big picture view of the future
When you walked out of Memorial Stadium on Saturday, it was hard not to think about the future of Nebraska football.
Yes, the Huskers came up short, losing 33-28 to Colorado, but the game gave you a big picture look at what the Scott Frost era is going to look like.
We saw more rushing yards and long runs in the first half than we saw all of 2017. We saw a defense flying around, pressuring the quarterback for the tune of seven quarterback sacks. And most importantly, we saw a freshman quarterback play as good or better than advertised.
There was a buy-in factor on the field, a passion we haven't seen with Nebraska in quite some time.
The only thing that spoiled the day were three turnovers, an injury to quarterback Adrian Martinez and a questionable personal foul penalty that allowed Colorado to execute their game-winning drive.
The best part about it to me was NU lost the game, and you could sense how upset head coach Scott Frost and his players were. They knew they were the better team and should've won this football game, but hats off to Colorado for making the plays when it mattered, despite being outgained 565 to 395 and 329 to 44 on the ground.
“It was completely different. Obviously, we felt like we should have won this game. We didn’t," senior linebacker Luke Gifford said. "But there was a lot of good things we knew we could take from it and I think the offense having 600 total yards, whatever they had, we had seven sacks on defense, those are encouraging numbers.
"(The) offense, we’re not worried about them, they’re going to keep plugging along, we’re really confident in those guys. We’re extremely confident on defense too so we know what kind of team we can be.”
And now with the injury questions surrounding Martinez, and the schedule this team faces going forward, this season just go real in a hurry.
“This is no moral victory, by any means," 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. This is a long season, we have a lot of games left, and in order for this team to keep getting better, we have to take away the positives. We can’t dwell on it too much. I think the coaching staff is going to have us ready to roll on Monday.”
After the game, Frost said the first three-quarters were the most fun he's ever had coaching a football game.
It was all there for them. The Huskers needed that one big play on offense or defense to finish off Colorado, but they came up short.
My guess is you'll see a very focused team take the field for practice on Monday, as everybody left the stadium on Saturday thinking they should've won that football game.
"We can’t beat ourselves. We’ve got to learn those lessons," Frost said. "We’ve tried preaching them to them a lot. If this team didn’t beat itself today, we would have won that game.”
Now on the to breakdown...
What I saw on Saturday
***The injury to Martinez made you wonder what Tristan Gebbia was thinking at that point. Nebraska obviously could've used him on Saturday, but that's water under the bridge.
This is Andrew Bunch's opportunity, and I thought for the most part he made the most of a very tough situation. He delivered a great pass to JD Spielman that should've been caught. If that play is executed, the Huskers win the game. He also drove them down and gave the Huskers a chance at the end. That's all you can ask from a guy put in that situation.
As for the Martinez injury, you have to think the worst, but be optimistic he can return this season. My feeling right now is we won't see him play next week, but it's still very early. Until we know the severity of the knee injury, it's hard to say what's next.
***An early play that sparked Nebraska was Martinez's 20-yard throw to Mike Williams on third-and-17. That gave the offense life and set up their 21 point scoring run.
***The defense came out flat-footed early, but once they settled in and adjusted, they had the makings of a very promising unit.
***Safety Tre Neal really acts like the quarterback on the field for the defense. He gets a lot of things set, and even called a timeout when NU wasn't ready.
***Another spark for Nebraska early was safety Aaron Williams. He made back-to-back tackles, including a pop on Lavis Shenault that sent him back pretty good.
***The poise of Martinez in the pocket, and just his ability to escape and extend plays was a thing of beauty.
***Nebraska's four starting linebacker accounted for 42 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 2.5 quarterback sacks. I don't remember a game like that production wise from NU's linebackers in quite some time.
The final grade out
Rushing offense: A-
Nebraska put up more rushing numbers on Saturday than they did all of last season. NU finished the day with 329 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground, but they lost two fumbles. Those two fumbles by Greg Bell and Martinez put the Huskers in a 14-0 hole, and they can't have that moving forward. Still, we saw a ton of bright spots with the rushing offense on Saturday.
Passing offense: B-
The efficiency was there for Martinez, as he finished 15-of-20 for 187 yards. However, the dropped touchdown pass by Stanley Morgan Jr. and the dropped third-and-long catch by JD Spielman were big moments in the game. Martinez's interception in the fourth quarter also was a game-changer when the Huskers were in a situation to put the game away.
Rushing defense: A
Nebraska held Colorado's running backs to just 50 yards on 20 carries. They made the Buffalos one-dimensional, as their longest run of the day was a 16-yard scramble from quarterback Steven Montez.
Passing defense: C
Tip your hate to Montez. He was a player. He got sacked seven times, but still stood strong to finish 33-of-50 for 351 yards and one touchdown. Shenault was a match-up nightmare, as he finished with 177 yards on 10 catches. The Husker secondary also failed to get that one key turnover they needed to flip the game.
Special teams: D
Nebraska missed their only field goal attempt of the game in the fourth quarter, Tyjon Lindsey had -2 yards on three punt return attempts and JD Spielman ran a kick out of the end zone that should've been downed that led to a penalty and put NU on its own 10-yard line. Spielman's other kick return only got to the 15. This is a phase of the game NU needs to improve in going forward. The Huskers were also flagged for three penalties on six return opportunities.
Sean Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can be heard each day at 6:45 am and 5:05 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap-Tuesday's at 7 pm.