Taylor-Britt Answers the Call
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Big Plays, Big Busts Lead to Nebraska’s Collapse at Colorado

September 08, 2019

Saturday had the potential for a big-time win for the Huskers. The Huskers made a lot of highlight-reel plays, enough to build a 17-point lead at halftime and a 10-point advantage early in the fourth.

However, the Huskers just couldn’t find a way to close it out, resulting in an overtime loss.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the plays that gave the Huskers their big lead, as well as two of the biggest defensive busts that contributed greatly to the loss.

Nebraska drew first blood on its first possession.

The drive got off to an inauspicious start as JD Spielman fair caught a punt at the Nebraska 4-yard line. However, gains of 10, 7 and 12 on the first three plays gave the Huskers some breathing room. Nebraska gained 2 on a first-down run then lined up with an empty backfield, two receivers to the right and three (including Spielman) to the left.

The Buffaloes only had three defenders on the side of the field with three receivers. The outside receiver runs about 20 yards up the sideline and sits down, taking the cornerback with him. The inside receiver runs a 20-yard dig route. Spielman runs a straight nine route up the seam.

The linebacker looks to take away a possible underneath route, settling in near the sticks, but both receivers are heading straight downfield. That leaves Colorado with just the safety to defend both receivers. He bites on the dig route and that leaves Spielman wide open.

You can’t see any of that in the clip above. What you can see is how long Martinez has to sit back there and wait for the routes to develop. The Buffaloes send four on the rush including a late blitz, but none of them get anywhere near Martinez. From snap to release, Martinez had nearly four seconds and make the throw, and it was right on the money.

Spielman caught the ball than made the safety miss fairly easily, walking into the end zone for six.

Nebraska’s offensive line got off to a pretty darn good start. Martinez had a lot of time to sit back and find receivers in the first half, which is part of why he went 9-for-9. Unfortunately, they couldn't keep it up after halftime.

Whereas I wanted to highlight the offensive scheme and the offensive line on the first play, Nebraska’s second touchdown was all Martinez.

Once again, Nebraska’s drive started inside its own 10-yard line, but even so the Huskers managed to put together an impressive drive, marching down the field (though they did get some help with a running into the kicker call on a punt that extended the drive). 

A 15-yard run by Martinez set the Huskers up with first and goal at the 3, but a false start pushed them back to the 8. Dedrick Mills picked up 3 yards on a  run, setting up second and goal from the 5.

Nebraska lined up with 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) and then motioned the lone receiver on the right side, Spielman, over the the left. Martinez dropped back, faked the handoff to Maurice Washington then looked to his receivers in the corner of the end zone. Both were covered, so Martinez decided to handle things himself. There was a free defender in his face cutting off his escape to the left, so he took off to his right, avoiding a diving tackle attempt.

Martinez turned on the jets from there and beat everyone to the pylon with Washington running a little interference. Just like that, the Huskers were up 14-0.

The offense didn’t have all the fun, however. The Blackshirts forced a turnover during the second quarter.

On the drive following Martinez’s touchdown, Colorado quarterback Steven Montez picked up 5 yards on a run on first down. On second and 5 from the  30-yard line, he dropped back to pass

Colorado packed everyone in tight with one wide receiver to the right. Nebraska had one cornerback, Lamar Jackson, to that side with a safety over the top. Colorado sent the receiver up the field then brought a tight end over from the left side of the formation. The safety had the deep route and Mohamed Barry picked up the tight end, which left Jackson to freelance.

Jackson had his eyes on Montez the entire time but Montez either didn’t see him or underestimated Jackson’s size and athleticism. Montez tried to throw it to the receiver angling for the sideline but the 6-foot-3 Jackson leaped up and snatched the ball out of the air for the interception.

I bet Jackson would be pretty good at Monkey in the Middle.

The interception led to a field goal for Nebraska’s last points of the half.

Nebraska’s next scoring drive was a one-play strike early in the fourth quarter. Two touchdowns by Colorado cut the Nebraska lead to three and Washington had the answer.

A touchback set the Huskers up at the 25-yard line. Nebraska lined up with trips left, one receiver to the right and Washington next to Martinez in the backfield. 

Martinez hit Washington on a swing pass with two tight ends, Jack Stoll and Austin Allen, blocking the slot defender and Kanawai Noa taking care of the cornerback on the perimeter. Allen peeled off to block the linebacker coming over to try to get in the play. 

The deep safety apparently did not realize how fast Washington was because he took himself out of the play with a bad angle. After Martinez beat the safety around the corner, it was  foot race between him and the weak side safety flying over. Washington won that race and had nothing but 40 yards of open turf ahead of him. 

Colorado scored the next 10 points to tie things up but Nebraska had one last touchdown drive in it. A drive featuring a 40-yard run from Washington ended with the Huskers inside the 10-yard line. It looked like Martinez had picked up a new set of downs on a run, but a review determined he was half a yard short of the line to gain, setting up fourth and shot. The Huskers went for it.

Nebraska had one receiver to each side with two tight ends in-line to the right. Martinez motioned Washington out into the right flat but it was a quarterback draw the whole way. Nebraska had left guard Trent Hixson pull around to the right side to block the safety.

Martinez shot through the whole and actually ran right into the defender that Stoll was engaged with, but Martinez bounced off him and kept plowing forward. Forget the first down, Martinez wanted the score and he got it.

Plays like that is where the weight Martinez put on this offseason helps, and as we saw on his first rushing touchdown, he’s still got plenty of speed.

For the second straight week, we need to highlight the work of the Nebraska special teams as well. On the ensuing kickoff after Martinez’s touchdown, the Huskers forced another turnover.

Back-up punter William Przystup sent the kickoff to Colorado star Laviska Shenault Jr. at the 3-yard line and Shenault took off like he was shot out of a cannon, darting through traffic and heading up the field. Cam Taylor-Britt, who started on the opposite side of the field and missed Shenault on his first attempt, turned around and kept up his pursuit. 

Taylor-Britt hit the turbo button and caught Shenault from behind, and not only did he tackle him but he punched the ball out as well for a fumble. True freshman walk-on Luke Reimer, making his debut after not suiting up last week against South Alabama, was the one who recovered the ball and then held onto it as seemingly every player on the field dived onto the pile and tried to pry it out of his grasp.

Unfortunately, the Huskers couldn’t do anything with the extra possession and had to punt after a three-and-out.

For all the plays Nebraska made, it was still a loss, and we can’t ignore some of the complete breakdowns on defense that contributed to the blown lead.

The first was Colorado’s second touchdown of the game on its first drive of the fourth quarter. The Buffaloes went with the flea flicker from their own end zone, which is a bold choice.

A great punt by Isaac Armstrong set Colorado up at its own 4-yard line. Nebraska had Marquel Dismuke as the safety on the left side of the field and Taylor-Britt as the cornerback. Dismuke immediately started rushing forward at the snap as Montez handed off to his running back and in the process he ran right by receiver K.D. Nixon heading up field. As the back pitched the ball back to Montez, it looks like Taylor-Britt gets caught peeking into the backfield. On the pitch, Taylor-Britt realized what was coming and tried to catch up with Nixon, but it was too late.

Dismuke continued his rush and tried to get to Montez before he released the ball, but he didn’t make it. Montez stood in there and made the throw, dropping the ball into Nixon’s hands at the 40-yard line. Taylor-Britt compounded the mistake by diving at Nixon and missing the tackle.

Nobody else even entered the frame the rest of the play as Nixon strolled into the end zone for a 96-yard touchdown.

Taylor-Britt is a big-time playmaker, but it’s also worth remembering that he's just a true sophomore. I’m sure he wanted this play back.

The second play was just as bad. After Washington’s touchdown pushed Nebraska’s lead back to 10, the Buffaloes responded with a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. 

This was the biggest play of that drive.

On second and 10 at the Colorado 36-yard line, the Buffaloes lined up with two receivers to the left. Nebraska had a corner opposite the outside receiver with JoJo Domann lined up across from the slot receiver, and safety Eric Lee Jr. was over the top.

Domann sticks with the slot receiver until the first-down marker, then passes him off to Lee. The outside receiver ran a short curl, and it looks like Lee was either anticipating a smash concept, which would include the inside receiver running a corner route, or he was expecting the outside receiver to run a deep route and was shading that way to double-team him.

Instead the receiver, Jaylon Jackson, ran a post route to the middle of the field. Lee’s feet and body were already heading the other direction and he couldn’t get turned around quickly enough to keep up with Jackson.

Darrion Daniels busted out a nifty spin move and forced Montez out of the pocket but he still saw Jackson running free and fired the ball downfield. Jackson caught it at the 35-yard line and ran another 28 yards before Lee managed to get him to the ground. One play later, the Buffaloes punched it in to make it a three-point game.

Nebraska did a pretty decent job of keeping an explosive Colorado offense in check for much of the night, but those two busts accounted for nearly a third of the Buffaloes’ total yardage and half of their touchdowns.

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