The Scott Frost era didn’t start the way Nebraska fans had hoped, with a heartbreaking 33-28 loss to one of its ancient foes, Colorado. Nebraska outplayed the Buffaloes, outgaining them 565-395. But three turnovers, dropped passes, devastating penalties, and an injured phenom ended up being the difference between the two teams.
So in looking back at game one for Frost’s Cornhuskers …
A-Mart. If Nebraska’s quarterback competition really was razor-thin until the last week or so, then Tristan Gebbia’s a pretty impressive signal-caller. True freshman Adrian Martinez moved the offense consistently, showed both his elusiveness and his breakaway speed with his 41-yard touchdown run, and his arm with a picture-perfect deep shot to J.D. Spielman in stride for a 57-yard touchdown pass.
Sure, it was far from flawless, including a fumble and a cringe-inducing interception in the fourth quarter. And his injury left Memorial Stadium silent in the fourth quarter, as walk-on Andrew Bunch tried to lead Nebraska to a come-from-behind win.
But if A-Mart can stay healthy (and yeah, I’m gonna to my best to make A-Mart A Thing) and learn from his mistakes, my goodness could he be something special.
The Blackshirts Are Back. Last year, Nebraska had fourteen sacks. On the season.
Tonight, against Colorado, Nebraska had seven.
Nebraska held Colorado to 44 yards rushing. Absent two deep shots in the fourth quarter which were at least decently defended, Nebraska held Colorado’s offense in check pretty much the entire game. After a year of watching Bob Diaco’s defense (usually peering through your fingers in horror while swearing profusely, seeing Nebraska’s defense against Colorado – even in a losing effort – has to be encouraging.
Taking a Punch. With 6:47 left in the first quarter, Nebraska was down 14-0 with two of its newest offensive stars (junior college transfer running back Greg Bell and true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez) having put the ball on the ground. For a team playing its first game under a new coach, coming off a 4-8 season, you could understand how a team could collapse mentally.
Instead, Nebraska ripped off 21 straight points to take the lead, dominating Colorado on both sides of the ball. Although the result didn’t work out the way Nebraska wanted, the fact that NU could get off the mat and respond like that should give Nebraska fans lots of hope.
A-Mart’s Knee. At the time of writing, Nebraska fans are still on tenterhooks waiting to hear the status of Martinez’s knee. With Gebbia’s transfer, Nebraska is down to two walk-ons – including one true freshman – on the quarterback depth chart.
There was so much to be positive about, to be hopeful about, in Nebraska’s performance against Colorado. But if Martinez is going to miss any significant time, Nebraska is going to struggle to improve on last year’s 4-8 record.
Mental Mistakes. The game was there for Nebraska to win. But being minus-three in turnover margin – including two that led directly to fourteen Colorado points – makes it awfully hard to win. Nebraska also committed eleven penalties for 95 yards. Two of those penalties – the personal foul against Antonio Reed that kept Colorado’s drive alive to take the lead, and Brendan Jaimes’ false start that cost Nebraska its last time out – were devastating.
Had Nebraska just made some of those mistakes, not all of them, NU likely escapes Memorial Stadium with a win.
Missed Opportunities. It wasn’t just the mental mistakes. Senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan dropped a touchdown pass, and sophomore J.D. Spielman dropped a clutch pass late in the game that likely would have changed the outcome of the contest. And freshman kicker Barret Pickering missed a 43-yard field goal that would have left Nebraska just needing another field goal, rather than a touchdown, in its final comeback attempt.
Much like with the mental mistakes, had Nebraska converted on even some of these missed opportunities, NU likely beats Colorado.
And the Spark that Lights the Flame
If you really want to be pessimistic, you could look at the start of Frost’s career in Lincoln and see it starting the same way that Mike Riley’s did – with a heartbreaking loss at home to a team from the west.
But this feels different. Nebraska dramatically outplayed Colorado. Nebraska’s loss was largely self-inflicted, with the damage coming from the first game of the season, and the first game played under Frost’s tutelage. Although we’ll never know, had Nebraska gotten its first game against Akron in last week, it seems like some of the kinks we saw on Saturday could have been ironed out, and Nebraska likely wins the game.
Now, with Nebraska being (at this point) one game down and 0-1 on the season, the path to six wins and a bowl game is pretty narrow. Dreams of an eight or nine win season might have been a bit premature (as a smart and particularly handsome analyst reminded you).
But Frost said when he got here that this was going to be a multi-year project. There’s still going to be bumps on the road – after all, trips to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Columbus, Ohio, still await.
And after the performance Nebraska put on against Colorado – one game, one data point, to be sure – Husker Fan has to feel like there’s a spark that’s been lit, that has a chance to grow into a flame.
Photo gallery here.