BOULDER, Colo. — Nebraska is not a good football team.
Good football teams don’t blow 17-0 halftime leads. Good football teams don’t out-gain their opponent and lose, and they certainly don’t do it twice. Good football teams execute. Nebraska didn’t.
Tape will show a hundred different reasons for why 25th-ranked Nebraska, now 1-1, lost another heartbreaking game. But Colorado beat Nebraska 34-31 in overtime because it outscored Nebraska 34-14 in the second half. And it did that because the Buffaloes out-executed Nebraska. Colorado was good.
Nebraska knows what it takes to be a good football team. The defense flies to the ball. The offense clicks for stretches and it looks like it can score 50 with ease.
Nebraska knows what it takes.
It also knows it’s not there yet.
“I’ve only been part of a couple that were tougher than this,” head coach Scott Frost said after. “One more score and it’s 24-0 and I think the stands would have started emptying out. Instead, we’re dealing with noise instead of them dealing with the noise.”
Nebraska essentially made Folsom Field into Lincoln West Saturday. Red may not have totally edged out black and gold, but it was louder. Colorado had cadence issues in the first half because of the noise; delay of game flags came as a result. And up 17-0 at halftime with the ball coming their way to start the second, Frost is probably right: a touchdown on the opening possession of the third and things look different.
But Nebraska didn’t score. Instead, the first four drives of the second half resulted in a six-play, 9-yard punt; a three-play, 5-yard punt; a three-play, minus-1-yard punt and a seven-play, 27-yard punt. The first four drives of the game brought 17 points and 271 yards.
“In the first half I thought it was over with,” said senior inside linebacker Mohamed Barry. “I thought we were about to give it to them and it was about to be a blowout. That’s what it should have been. We had them. We were better than that team.
“The second half, we didn’t finish and we have to finish. That’s the biggest thing. We have to finish. Our best players have to play their best football in the second half. That’s what it takes for us to be a great team and to be that team we want to be.”
But Nebraska’s best weren’t at their best in the second half.
Cam Taylor-Britt, after a strong first 30 minutes, got beat on a 96-yard flea-flicker early in the fourth. He was on an island with Colorado KD Nixon. Taylor-Britt got beat and slumped to the ground near midfield as Nixon walked into the end zone. Senior safety Eric Lee Jr. said the Huskers had a sense a deep shot was coming and eye discipline cost them six.
Adrian Martinez accounted for all three of the Husker turnovers. He fumbled twice, one in each half, and threw an interception with the score tied and Nebraska trying to produce a game-winning drive. There were 24 seconds on the clock, Nebraska had a timeout and it was at the NU 38.
“We know that good teams can’t turn over the ball that much and expect to win the game,” he said.
Frost was off, too.
“I told the team I put this one on me,” he said.
Jack Stoll, after looking like a legitimate threat early last week was targeted three times. Wan’Dale Robinson had five touches on offense. Maurice Washington is head and shoulders Nebraska’s best running back and he only got 15 carries. When their overtime possession came and the Huskers trailed by just three, the first two plays were called runs that gained nothing.
“I didn’t want to risk throwing an interception or losing the ball,” Frost said.
But after recovering a fumble on kickoff with five minutes to play and the Huskers up seven, instead of setting up a clock-killing drive, Nebraska went for a home run on first down and it resulted in a 7-yard sack.
Conservative play-calling in overtime will probably be excused in some respects because Nebraska was rolling with a punter at kicker, but why not dial up something different for second down after getting stuffed on first?
The snap on third was low, and maybe that threw Martinez off?
“I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for anything. That’s on me,” he said of a play that ended in a sack, setting up the 50-yard attempt for Isaac Armstrong that became the plug-pulling miss. “Whether the snap was freaking 5,000 feet over my head, I don’t care. There’s no excuses.
“I think that’s an important thing for this team to know and a lesson to myself. Regardless of where the snap is, who gives a shit? I gotta be able to make the play. Excuse my language.”
Barry, admittedly, didn’t have a performance typical of his ability. The defense missed tackles all over the field as the game moved into the latter stages. Colorado had 84 total yards, 0 yards rushing and zero explosive plays at halftime, then out-gained the Huskers 380-203 in the second half while biting off 8.3 yards a play. Hell, 323 of those yards came over the final 19 minutes and six seconds.
“No,” Lee said. “It’s just responding to adversity.”
“Duval’s got us in good shape,” added defensive lineman Ben Stille.
Frost said his defense looked tired in the third quarter though? Altitude play any kind of a factor?
“No,” Barry said. “It shouldn’t.”
So what was it? Nebraska’s guys were adamant the Buffs didn’t change much up schematically between the first and second halves, they just didn’t bring it.
Good teams don’t make excuses.
“I don’t care how much time we’re on the field,” Barry started. “I don’t care how many plays we play. We signed up for this. We signed up to play defense, backing the offense, backing Coach Frost’s offense. We know how many plays we’re going to play. We know it’s going to be tempo. We know if they don’t score it’s going to be harder on us. We know this. This is Year 2 and we have to execute and we have to stop them when it’s our time to do so.”
Emotion at that point, he says, doesn’t matter. Do your job.
There wasn’t enough of that.
Taylor-Britt was walking off the field after the point-after attempt that followed Colorado’s flea-flicker with his head hung low. Dicaprio Bootle got in his ear, smacked his head a couple times, and told him to shake it off.
“Go make that next play that comes at you,” Lee said.
And he did. Taylor-Britt is the one who forced the fumble on kickoff that could have set up the Huskers to kill the clock. The flashes are there. There are just too many of the lows right now.
This was the Huskers’ fifth-straight overtime loss. They’ve lost nine of the last 12 games decided by seven points or fewer. These players haven’t been around for all of them, but they’ve seen enough. Cursed?
“We’re in complete control of that,” Stille said. “It’s not up to fate, it’s up to us.”
Barry knows what this one could have meant.
“We could have shut all the naysayers up,” he said. “We could have said, ‘Nebraska football is here. Blackshirt football is here. The defense, how we played in the first half, we here.’
“We didn’t. We didn’t do it, so now we have to prove it again and again. When the prime opportunity presents itself again, we have to rise to the occasion. It has to happen.”
It’s what good teams do. Nebraska knows that. That last step is showing it.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.