On four consecutive drives over the first and second quarters on Saturday, the Nebraska defense held Colorado to a three-and-out each time.
“The defense at times looked like the Blackshirts,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said.
But that same defense had a bad start, giving up two touchdowns to start the game, and a bad finish, allowing Colorado to get the 33-28 win at Memorial Stadium.
The defense got a lot better after the start, but spotting the Buffaloes two touchdowns wasn’t good.
“I think (Colorado) did a good job executing on that first drive, they hit us with a lot of stuff, with double-reverse passes or whatever that thing was … you know, you can practice against yourself a lot until you see the speed of somebody else and how they’re doing it, sometimes it takes a series,” Frost said.
Limiting Colorado to three-and-outs helped the Huskers regroup quickly, and Colorado only gained 139 yards in the first half, including just 9 yards rushing. Colorado finished with 395 total yards.
“We were right there to win all the momentum and take the life out of the team we were playing against, and we have to take advantage of that,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “We were right there to hit the uppercut and then it would have been a different game.”
The defense improving after some early adversity hadn’t always been the case in recent seasons.
“We responded better than I’d seen in the past,” defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg said.
The defense was getting sacks and making some big hits. The Huskers had seven sacks, after having 14 sacks all of last season.
“It was fun, we were bouncing around and having a great time,” safety Deontai Williams said. “We knew that we had this game. We had this game won second and third quarter because we knew if we kept hitting them in the mouth they were going to get tired, and they were going to get tired of getting hit.”
But at the finish, when the Huskers needed one more stop, Colorado quarterback Steven Montez completed four passes during a seven-play, 77-yard drive, including a 40-yard touchdown pass to Laviska Shenault for the winner. One play before that, on third-and-24, Nebraska had a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Antonio Reed to extend the drive. Colorado converted on two fourth-down plays.
“We had opportunities to win that game, and we didn’t make them defensively, so that’s frustrating, and something we got to work on,” Stoltenberg said.
The defense has a lot to fix, the players said, but they also saw an offseason of progress, especially with all of those sacks. And 33 points looks better than the 50 allowed in each of the final three games of last season.
“As you can see, our culture has changed, and it was evident in our performance today,” Barry said. “But the scenarios of third down and stuff like that, great teams, we have to fix that. In that sense we have to get better as a team.”