In a sneaky-huge challenge for Scott Frost, Nebraska comfortably beat Buffalo at home, 28-3. While the score stubbornly stayed close until a Luke Reimer interception set up Nebraska for an insurance touchdown, NU avoided the catastrophic errors that had plagued it for years and never gave the Bulls the momentum and opportunity to stage an upset.
So for Nebraska’s win over Buffalo …
Adrian’s Back? One of the enduring mysteries of Nebraska in the Frost era has been the inconsistency – which might be a more polite way to say regression – of quarterback Adrian Martinez. His inaccuracy and critical turnover against Illinois was a huge factor in Nebraska’s upset loss to open the season.
Martinez shone against Fordham last week but, let’s be honest, it was Fordham. Buffalo has been the best of Nebraska’s first three opponents, so the question was how Martinez would fare.
He answered the bell. His long run after surviving a jailbreak pass rush was the spark that seemed to start Nebraska’s offense. He began to make plays, including an improvised forward flip. After having watched Martinez throughout his career, that flip prompted this response from a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst.
That catastrophe, of course, never came. Martinez continued to make plays and, far more importantly, make good decisions and protect the football. Even though Nebraska didn’t really pull away from Buffalo until late, Martinez’ smart play never created a scenario where Buffalo could feel life coming back into the game.
Resiliency. Nebraska had two touchdowns taken off the board on … questionable refereeing decisions. Nebraska’s all-conference placekicker went 0-3 on field goals, meaning Nebraska came away with no points on three scoring opportunities.
As fragile as Nebraska’s confidence has been, little things like that have been enough to start the team spiraling and unable to respond to challenges. But at least for this week, Nebraska was able to weather the storm and keep fighting, ultimately getting a comfortable win.
Stripes. Sure, they were hard to see on the super-sharp alternate uniforms. But the stripes on the pants were back. It’s a welcome sight, and at least a glimmer of hope that the powers that be will finally see the light and end the unfortunate era of yoga pants for the scarlet and cream.
The Question of the Year. What’s happened to Nebraska’s offensive line? The Pipeline was supposed to be a source of strength, but over the first quarter of the season it has been anything but. Against inferior talent, Nebraska has been unable to generate any consistent rushing attack between the tackles. Martinez played brilliantly but was running for his life almost immediately upon getting the snap.
The defenses Nebraska will face the rest of this year are significantly better, on the whole, from what its seen so far. If the offensive line can’t find its feet – and quickly – any chance of a resurgence for Nebraska this year is unlikely.
The Other Question of the Year. How is it possible that Nebraska’s special teams can continue to be this comically bad? Yes, Nebraska’s kickoff coverage is worlds better than it was last year. But that’s really it. Other than one punt, Daniel Cerni has been underwhelming in terms of both punting distance and accuracy. Placekicker Connor Culp, as discussed earlier, has been nothing short of a disaster. And Cam Taylor-Britt has fumbled at least one punt return in each of Nebraska’s first three games. Yes, it’s not entirely fair to charge this week’s fumble on Taylor-Britt, but the fact that Nebraska’s punt return unit is good for at least one fumble per game is unacceptable.
Much like with the offensive line, being this bad on special teams is enough on its own to kill any chance of Nebraska turning a corner in 2021.
Where Was This In Champaign? Since beating Nebraska, Illinois has lost by 7 to the UTSA Roadrunners and by 28 (!) to Virginia. Nebraska’s performance against Buffalo – which, again, would likely be favored over Illinois on neutral ground – was its most complete since a 54-7 win over Maryland in 2019.
Had Nebraska put this performance on in Champaign against the Illini, it’s hard not to see that NU would be 3-0 and with a far different vibe preparing for a trip to Norman.
AND THE PROOF OF CONCEPT
Oh, that’s what it’s like when Nebraska doesn’t beat Nebraska. Even with the struggles running the ball between the tackles (even against a six-man box), Martinez’s ability to go over the top and attack the edges with a nifty option package let Nebraska’s offense thrive.
And Nebraska’s defense finally looked on point for four quarters. Against a sturdy rushing attack and quick-pass offense, the Blackshirts stood tall and kept Buffalo from ever really threatening to get back into the contest.
Nebraska beat the best team its faced by 25, and absent to questionable-to-ridiculous official calls would have won by 40. Sure, Oklahoma’s next, and Nebraska looks dramatically overmatched. But after Oklahoma is a well-coached Michigan State squad and a struggling Northwestern team at home. Should Nebraska survive its trip to Norman, physically and emotionally, then there are two winnable games on the schedule.
A 4-2 record after the first half of the season is certainly on the cards, which seemed a million miles away after the loss in Champaign.