It would be wrong to say the Nebraska offensive line lost the battle of the trenches on Saturday against Colorado.
The group gave its freshman quarterback a comfortable pocket and kept his jersey clean for the most part. They also paved the way for 329 yards on the ground, the most rushing yards in a game since 2014. It was an impressive performance from the experienced line, but one telling stat stuck out after the game for the coaches and players alike. The Huskers finished 0-for-3 in fourth-down conversions, including two key short-yardage plays in crucial moments.
“There were mistakes and they started to add up. We know, when it’s fourth-and-1 and you’re the offensive line, we have to be able to get that first down,” senior right guard Tanner Farmer said. “That’s something we should pride ourselves on, and we didn’t do that today. That’s something we’re going to work on and get better at in the future.”
The biggest fourth-down stop from the Buffaloes came with under eight minutes remaining and the Huskers clinging to a 28-27 lead. Running back Greg Bell was stopped a yard behind the line of scrimmage, and while it didn’t lead to Colorado points on the next drive, it kept Nebraska from ticking precious minutes off the clock in a tight game.
Unfortunately for the Huskers, it was just another setback in a second half plagued with self-induced missteps.
“Looking out on that field, the only time we got stopped on offense was when we made mistakes and stopped ourselves,” coach Scott Frost said. “When you’re trying to go from an average team to a great team, you don’t beat yourself. Spotting them 14-points is a good way to get beat. Not converting fourth-and-shorts is a good way to get beat. … We can’t beat ourselves.”
The fourth-down struggles were one of a few symptoms of a Nebraska team playing in its first football game of the season. There were crucial drops in the second half from normally sure-handed receivers, a missed field goal and 11 penalties for 95 yards, with seven of those coming in second half. A Martinez interception stalled another drive.
“We moved the ball well. They couldn’t stop us on offense, we stopped ourselves every time when we got stopped,” sophomore wide receiver Mike Williams said. “It was kind of self-inflicted wounds that we caused on ourselves.”
It’s impossible to say if some of these opportunities would’ve been missed by a Husker team with a game under its belt, but with a game now played, they certainly know what to clean up before next Saturday.