In a thrilling game that hearkened back to memorable Nebraska-Colorado conference contests of old, the Buffaloes capitalized on Husker miscues to escape from Memorial Stadium with a 33-28 win on Saturday afternoon.
The Buffaloes improved to 2-0, while Nebraska lost its season opener in the closing minutes of Scott Frost’s official debut as the Husker head coach, which came in front of the 362nd consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium.
Although miscues, including three turnovers, 11 penalties and several mistakes on special teams hurt Nebraska, the Big Red fought hard together for 60 minutes and had two shots into the end zone by quarterback Andrew Bunch from inside 25 yards in the closing seconds that would have given NU the victory.
Nebraska put up 565 total yards on Colorado, including 329 rushing yards, as true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez (117) and newcomer Greg Bell (104) both reached the century mark on the day. It marked the first double-100-yard game by the Huskers since Ameer Abdullah (208) and Imani Cross (109) accomplished the feat against Illinois in 2014.
Martinez added 187 yards on 15-of-20 passing in his collegiate debut to finish with 304 yards of total offense. Bunch completed 4-of-9 passes for 49 yards with the game on the line in the fourth quarter to give Nebraska a chance to come back and win.
First-quarter fumbles by Martinez and Bell helped the Buffs to a 14-0 lead. Martinez added an interception in the fourth quarter, and then was knocked out of the game with an injury on Nebraska’s second-to-last offensive possession. He left with the Huskers clinging to a 28-27 lead.
The Blackshirts held Colorado to just 44 rushing yards, while recording seven sacks of CU quarterback Steven Montez – the most by the Nebraska defense in five seasons.
But Montez answered with 351 yards on 33-of-50 passing with three scores, including a 40-yard touchdown strike to Laviska Shenault on CU’s final offensive play of the game with 1:06 left to put Colorado up 33-28.
Shenault keyed the Buff offense with 10 receptions for 177 yards and added a touchdown run.
The Blackshirts were poised to secure the win before the late connection between Montez and Shenault, forcing CU into third-and-24 from its own 45. But a personal foul in the secondary on an uncatchable pass from Montez over the middle kept the Buff offense on the field.
The Husker defense was unable to force a CU turnover on the day, but the Buffs made early-season mistakes of their own as place-kicker James Stefanou missed a pair of fourth-quarter field goals wide left that could have given Colorado leads earlier in the final quarter.
In addition to the 100-yard rushing games by Martinez and Bell, Devine Ozigbo rushed 14 times for 60 yards and a score and added two receptions for 17 yards. Maurice Washington added eight carries for 34 yards as a freshman running back for the Big Red.
Senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. led the Huskers with five receptions for 75 yards, while JD Spielman added three catches for 67 yards. Junior transfer Mike Williams pitched in three receptions for 40 yards in his Husker debut.
Defensively, Mohamed Barry led the Blackshirts with 12 tackles, while fellow senior linebacker Luke Gifford contributed 11 stops, including 1.5 sacks.
Nebraska’s offense got off to a quick start sprinting 62 yards on its opening drive before Buff defensive end Mustafa Johnson forced a fumble by Bell with a big hit that was recovered by linebacker Davion Taylor to stop the Big Red’s opening drive of the season at the CU 14.
The Buffaloes answered with an eight-play, 86-yard drive capped by Jay MacIntyre’s three-yard touchdown catch from Montez to give Colorado a 7-0 lead six minutes into the game.
Another turnover stopped Nebraska’s second drive, as Martinez fumbled on his way to the ground deep inside Husker territory, setting up the Buffs with a short field. CU capitalized again with a four-play, 24-yard drive that ended with a three-yard scoring run from Shenault to give the visitors a 14-0 lead with 6:47 left in the opening quarter.
The rest of the first half belonged to the Big Red.
Martinez atoned for his early miscue by sprinting 41 yards to paydirt on Nebraska’s next drive to cap an eight-play, 75-yard march to pull the Huskers within 14-7 with 3:47 left in the quarter.
At the end of the first quarter, Nebraska owned 189 total yards, including 138 rushing yards on 18 carries, while Colorado managed 103 total yards, including 21 rushing yards on four carries.
By halftime, Nebraska carried a 21-17 lead after scoring three consecutive touchdowns before a late field goal in the final 30 seconds ended Colorado’s scoring draught.
In the second quarter, the Huskers outgained Colorado 140-36, including 105-(-12) on the ground, to carry a 329-139 edge in total yards for the half despite managing just a 21-17 halftime lead.
Martinez accounted for 86 rushing yards on eight carries with two touchdowns in the half, including his three-yard touchdown run with 2:24 left in the first half to give Nebraska its first lead of the game at 21-14. His second scoring run of the day capped an eight-play, 79-yard march for the Big Red. Martinez also completed 9-of-11 first-half passes for 86 yards.
Bell added 80 rushing yards on nine first-half carries, including a 45-yard gallop to set up Nebraska’s go-ahead score. The long first-half runs by both Martinez and Bell surpassed NU’s longest run of the entire 2017 season (40, JD Spielman vs Northwestern).
Nebraska’s 243 yards rushing in the half outdistanced the 2017 season best of 225 yards for the entire game in last year’s season opener against Arkansas State. Ozigbo added 45 first-half yards on 10 carries, including an eight-yard touchdown run with 10:15 left in the second quarter to tie the game at 14.
Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium next Saturday to take on Troy. Kick-off is set for 11 a.m.