In the wake of an oh-so-frustrating 33-28 loss to Colorado on Saturday in Scott Frost’s debut as Nebraska football’s head coach, Husker fans find themselves in an incredibly frustrating situation. No, it’s not that the Big Red had chance after chance to slam the door on the Buffaloes’ hopes, nor is it the minus-three turnover margin. It’s not the interception Adrian Martinez threw almost directly to Colorado’s Nate Landman or Lavis Shenault’s repeated on-the-field statements that he is, indeed, legit.
Coming into this season, Nebraska fans were sold hope and that’s what they received despite the loss. Sure, that might sound sappy, but no, this isn’t about moral victories. Rather, the game against Colorado showed that regardless of whether or not Nebraska got an assumed tune-up game versus Akron to work out the kinks, their current problems are correctable, not systematic. What’s more, what fans were sold is legitimate. The hope is real. The hype is believable.
The success of 2018 largely depends on whether or not the Huskers have a healthy Martinez at the helm versus Andrew Bunch. We saw the difference between what Frost is able to call with one versus the other against Colorado.
In the Fresno, Calif., native, you have a true freshman that made the occasional age-related mistake but otherwise completed 75 percent of his passes for 187 yards and a touchdown while simultaneously leading his team in rushing. This same team racked up 329 yards on the ground and had an additional 100-yard rusher aside from said quarterback.
Bunch on the other hand, is not Martinez and no one should expect him to be. The best word to describe the Huskers’ backup quarterback is “efficient.” Can he lead the offense? Absolutely. Does he have Martinez’s amazing athleticism and ability to make something out of nothing? No, he doesn’t.
In fact, it’s arguable that Nebraska’s bowl eligibility comes down to whether or not Big Red backers see No. 2 taking snaps more often than No. 17. However, it is in Martinez that we begin to find frustration. Twitter was ablaze with praise from national pundits lauding his skills. It was akin to seeing Purdue’s Rondale Moore for the first time versus Northwestern earlier this year. Despite the occasional hiccup, it was very much a day of “Welcome to College Football, Mr. Martinez.”
The fact of the matter is, we don’t know how much of him we’ll see versus Troy. For that matter, we don’t know how much we’ll see of him this season, period. That is part of the irritant, but it doesn’t stop there. We saw much-ballyhooed junior college transfer running back Greg Bell prove why he earned the ranking he did. Devine Ozigbo said to the world, “I’m not done here yet.” The box score doesn’t show the ceiling that Maurice Washington has. Again, it doesn’t end there.
Let’s put the offense aside for a moment. Nebraska’s defense racked up seven sacks versus Colorado in its first game of the season – seven! To help illustrate the significance of this, in one game the Huskers had half as many sacks as they did for all of 2017. Did the secondary struggle again as it has over the past several seasons? Indeed it did, but give Shenault his due. He was Steven Montez’s favorite target and assisted his quarterback’s stat sheet to the tune of 177 yards worth of passing offense.
This defense flew to the football – and more importantly, into Colorado’s backfield – with a passion and ferocity unmatched since perhaps the 2009 season. I’m not suggesting that any of these young men are the next Ndamukong Suh, but the sum of their parts could be as disruptive as that season’s defensive front.
The frustration is that no matter what happens with Martinez or how much of the defense is officially recognized as the Blackshirts and/or for how long, it’s all irrelevant. No matter what we do, no matter how loudly Nebraska fans cheer, no one in Lincoln or across the college football landscape gets to see the finished product.
What was delivered by Frost and his staff versus Colorado was something not seen in Lincoln for years: it was worth the price of admission. It’s the style of play and competitiveness that causes ticket prices to trend upward. Suddenly, no matter how big the opponent, seeing Nebraska football live is an investment worth making.
Unfortunately, like any monumental story, it cannot be told in one installment. The Reboot of Nebraska as authored by Scott Frost may very well be a trilogy. However, it is because of that frustration and anticipation that fans can enjoy game day even more than they have in years. Showing up to games isn’t like it has been several times during every era since Tom Osborne left. There’s not a sense of duty to keep the sellout streak going (or at least showing up for a half).
Nebraska football is becoming fun again. Even in the sloppy, unpolished loss witnessed on Saturday, there were significant stretches where the Huskers looked like…well, their old selves. Not the 1995 version, per se, but a squad that could contend with some of the best teams of today. Nebraska fans must now put up with some major cliffhangers before the end of this first series of events.
The good news is that such an ending already looks to be the start of a bright future. You know, the one that Bill Moos saw when he inked Frost in the first place and that’s a tale worth sticking around to see through.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces), and keep up with the Quick N Dirty podcasts on his Patreon page.