On Monday, JoJo Domann, a Colorado native, was asked if he's happy he ended up in Lincoln.
Here’s a guy who’s been here four years and dealt with a significant injury in all but one of them. But he’s got a love for Lincoln, so he’s stuck around. During fall camp this year, he was allowed to go home to Colorado to rehab another injury. How many coaches around the country would allow that? Domann returned on time and immediately got back on the field.
So on Monday, he answers the initial question by saying, “Thank God I came here.” It's taken as a Colorado slight by Colorado media, who tell Colorado players Nebraska is talking trash. Domann was not taking a shot. Context is important.
In the same press conference, sophomore defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt says the Buffs have a target on their heads, which isn't anything new; every defensive player I've talked to since the season started has said every team that beat them last year has a target on their backs. Part of that Vengeance Tour thing. Nebraska wants to prove itself.
But a Colorado guy stirs the pot and suggests the Huskers have put a bounty on CU quarterback Steven Montez’s head, akin to the headhunting scandal the New Orleans Saints went through a few years back. Taylor’s quote is the entire crux of the piece. Domann’s comment is used. Mohamed Barry saying “The Sea of Red is coming” is labeled as trash talking.
Colorado was debuting new aluminum cups during Saturday’s game. Given the 2005 “Restore the Order” game, there was a thought around the internet that those cups would end up flying through the air. Colorado was only serving them along with beer sales, which was worrisome, but I was told they wouldn’t feel any different hitting you than an empty bottle of Pepsi. Media got samples of the cups, CU wanted to promote the rollout.
The same writer decided to take his outside and throw it at a building, video the toss and tweet out the cups were “chuckable.”
But yes, Nebraska spent this entire week talking smack.
Head coach Scott Frost shot down the Vengeance Tour idea at his Thursday availability, saying he doesn’t want his players to think that way. After the events of last year’s NU-CU showdown, writing about the Jacob Callier tackle on Adrian Martinez was absolutely on the table, but none of Nebraska's players would talk to me on record about the incident, essentially saying "football is football, injuries happen, we've moved on." I went into the week looking to write that story, I didn't have anything.
But the Colorado media ran with a story of Buff players calling Nebraska fans “cowards” over the backlash. Funny enough, Callier didn’t play Saturday.
Later in the week, Colorado linebacker Davion Taylor said this of Martinez: “We have to keep him in the pocket and make him pass. If we make him pass, I feel like that’s probably one of his weaknesses.” That was on Thursday. Someone either didn’t watch film or wanted to fuel a fire. Martinez, by the way, has 477 yards in two games against the Buffs at a 67.4% clip. He was a perfect 9-for-9 throwing the ball in the first half Saturday.
I was expecting this year’s affair to get chippy, even more so once the Buffs went into halftime down 17-0 at home. But, at one point Saturday, I watched Martinez get flushed out of the pocket and, after throwing the ball away, trot back to the line of scrimmage stride-for-stride with a CU lineman. They were talking, but from the looks of it the talk didn’t fit the narrative. Colorado’s guy patted Martinez on the back, Martinez did the same.
No fights broke out. No one tried to start anything. This seemed a clean game between two football teams fighting like hell to win. It was what you want. The worst part was students chanting expletives. And if that's the worst part… welcome to college football.
In the postgame, Nebraska said it needed to be better, to execute and play cleaner. Nebraska was not interested in using fatigue or the altitude as an excuse even though the defense clearly looked gassed. Lots of self-reflection from a team tired of being close but unable to cross the finish line.
In the other locker room, Colorado wanted to talk about Nebraska, too.
“To be honest, I think they talked themselves right out of the game,” Montez said. “I think they came in too amped up. Before the coin flip, they were talking trash. They were at the bottom of the piles, talking trash, spitting, doing dirty stuff. So they got a lot of what was coming to them.”
I would say take that at face value. If Nebraska was actually acting like punks after the play, why was Montez the only one to bring it up? No one else talked about it? No one reacted in-game. Again, no one tried to start anything after a play. If you’re getting spit on and you’re aware it’s happening, you’re either going to retaliate or you take the high road. And the ones who ignore things in the moment don’t bring them up after the fact, especially in wins.
Only the 22 guys on the football field know what happened. At the end of the day, I don’t know. If Nebraska guys were doing stuff after the whistle, and more people come out to say so, then that's on NU, and it'll be pretty disappointing. But I know men on this team and I’d vouch for their character until given a legitimate reason not to.
Maybe some of my skepticism comes from the fact the guys pushing the “bad blood” narrative all week wrote this after Saturday’s game ended:
“In victory, the Buffs were dizzy with giddiness. The dead-tired Huskers stumbled off the field in a daze. Every fan in the stadium, which was so thoroughly draped in red by ticket-scalping visitors that Folsom Field smelled more like Nebraska than the cabbage of a Runza sandwich at kickoff, was left queasy with anxiety.
“In defeat, the Huskers were sore losers. Yes, they are Big Red Whiners.”
Barry saying “After the first half, I thought we were going to win, because we gave it to them,” is “cheap talk” even though Nebraska was up 17 and Colorado had as many rushing yards as points — 0. Who wouldn’t expect to win that game? Barry saying he thought they were the better team is “cheap talk” because no team in the country thinks they’re better than the other guys.
“The Big Red Whiners huffed and puffed, but couldn’t blow down CU.”
“I’m so old I remember when Nebraska was good enough to intimidate a foe. But when Montez ignored the bait early last week, after the Huskers claimed they were the better team in 2018, despite CU’s victory in Lincoln, I told the senior quarterback maybe he was growing up and becoming a bona fide leader.”
This was a great game, a phenomenal atmosphere and all the other stuff is just detracting from it. Nebraska is apparently full of a bunch of sore losers, but there’s only one side that keeps talking.
Adjustments Doom the O-Line
Adrian Martinez was clean and free for most of the first half to throw the ball. Cameron Jurgens was fantastic at center. The pocket Martinez had to work from was everything a quarterback hopes for and more. The throw to JD Spielman in the first quarter that netted a 65-yard score? That’s time a quarterback only dreams of.
But a lot of what Colorado did in the first half defensively was dictated by a fear of Martinez beating them with his legs. Four-man pressures were routinely offered up in exchange for keeping guys to spy the quarterback or cover the flats. It didn’t work all that well because, contrary to what Davion Taylor says, Martinez was capable enough to find the holes in zones and exploit coverages or alignments to his advantage in the first 30 minutes.
But then Colorado opened the third quarter with a handful of show-blitz-drop-eight looks on Nebraska's first drive. Those immediately morphed into secondary pressures like this …
Nebraska’s expecting those extra guys near the line of scrimmage to drop back into coverage because that’s what they’ve been doing, Matt Farniok and Brenden Jaimes pinch in and Colorado gets home.
Colorado did variations of this again and again …
… and the Huskers kept getting fooled up front. Nebraska had the ball for seven-and-a-half minutes in the third quarter, gained 50 yards (2.9 a play) and punted three times. After a first half in which the Buffs didn't sniff Martinez, they produced three third-quarter sacks.
Nebraska woke back up in the fourth quarter (a bit) but the lull in the third prolonged the game. A score on either of the Huskers’ first two drives and the game is 24-0 and the game is over. Nebraska hasn’t been able to keep an opponent pinned on the mat in how long? Saturday was a chance to do just that and the Huskers blinked.
What’s Going on With the Run?
Why Nebraska can’t run between the tackles remains a mystery. Jurgens was cleaner in his second game than he was in his first, but the Husker offensive line overall is not getting the push up the middle that it needs.
Through two games, the rushing attack is at 3.08 yards per carry. That’s tied with Arizona State for 110th in college football. On-the-edges stuff is producing, and Martinez finally started to get his legs under him against Colorado, but 3.08 is bad and whatever the number is for isolated runs up the gut is undoubtedly worse.
Dedrick Mills has 68 yards on 23 carries through his first two games as a Husker, which puts him a few fractions of a yard short of 3 per carry. Maurice Washington is the guy who can beat everyone else to the edge, but he's not the guy who wants to take a pounding up the middle, so Nebraska's either rolling with its best guy and being predictable, or it's trying to stay committed to balance and banging its head against a wall.
On 46 carries, Nebraska had just five gain 10 yards or more Saturday and none of them came from a running back going between his tackles. That's concerning.
What Happened in OT?
Nebraska hasn't scored a point in overtime since 2014. And it's played five overtimes since 2014.
That trend held against Colorado, and, frankly, the play-calling has to be questioned as a potential factor here.
Now, Scott Frost makes the money he makes because he's one of the top offensive minds in the sport. He knows what he's talking about and he knows what he's doing (those suggesting otherwise after this loss need to calm down). He's smarter than I am and it's not close. But I'm just left wondering why.
Nebraska called two perimeter runs on the first two plays and got nothing. Frost said this about the decision:
"We were talking for five minutes before overtime started about what our best runs were," he said. "They got a field goal, I didn’t want to risk throwing an interception or losing the ball. We picked two of the runs we thought were the best. Knew before the series started that we didn’t have our kicker, so I was trying to run the plays that hopefully would most-likely get us three or four [yards].
"We had trouble running between the tackles again today, so a lot of our runs had to be wide. They did a good job stopping them. Put us in a third-and-long, thought we called a safe pass, held onto the ball too long. I don’t know what the odds would say with a backup kicker making that length a field goal [versus] going for it on fourth-and-14. That’s not a good situation to be in."
Frost said he doesn't have a play in his book for fourth-and-14, which is fine (Brandon Vogel made the point after that if he did, it would be his "I'm running this every play" call). But the part about not wanting to throw an interception is troublesome.
Nebraska took the ball out of its best player's hands for the first two plays, and then in a time of desperation asked him to make something out of nothing. In the offseason, Frost said the Huskers would go as far as Martinez would take them. It just didn't seem like Martinez was allowed the ability to take them anywhere in overtime.
I wonder what that means moving forward. Was this just a reaction to an interception Martinez had thrown minutes earlier to effectively end regulation or something else? When the chips are down, is there faith there that the quarterback can make the winning play? We're not talking about being aggressive, we're talking about Nebraska being itself.