The Nebraska Cornhuskers opened the era of a new head coach with a 33-28 loss, only this time it was to the Colorado Buffaloes, not the BYU Cougars. All kidding aside — as this writer sees that being one of the few parallels of the Scott Frost and Mike Riley timelines — the Big Red’s eventual season opener was quite the emotional roller-coaster.
However, in the Cornhusker State, the notion of a football team improving the most from its first game to its second is as accepted as the sun rising each morning. That would be ideal considering the less Nebraska has to lean on a recovering Adrian Martinez against the incoming Troy Trojans, the better.
Troy dropped its first game against now-No. 17 Boise State 56-20 before roaring back with a 59-7 pasting of FCS opponent Florida A&M. The Trojans now look to shock the Nebraska faithful again by keeping Frost winless in September. Neal Brown has had great success leading Troy. Entering his fourth year, his record stands at 26-14 including two 10-win seasons, a pair of bowl victories and a Sun Belt title in 2017.
Just last year, Troy walked into Death Valley and upset then-No. 25 LSU 24-21. The Trojans will have to be beaten down physically as they’re tough as nails in spirit.
Troy at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 15 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Nebraska -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The number of Andrew Bunch’s snaps
With the status of starting quarterback Adrian Martinez’s knee shrouded in coach speak following last weekend’s injury, Scott Frost must decide at what point he’s willing to risk further damage in a game that his team should be able to manage with Bunch, a sophomore walk-on, at the helm. Keep in mind that Martinez can play in three more games and retain redshirt status.
Style points aren’t necessary for Frost’s first season, only wins. Whether his team beats Troy or any other opponent by one point or 50 is irrelevant since it nets him the same result in Nebraska’s quest for bowl eligibility. Bunch has the skills necessary to orchestrate what is asked of him and made some very impressive throws on the run last week vs. the Buffaloes after Martinez left the game. Bunch should see the vast majority — if not all — of the snaps versus Troy barring an absolute emergency situation.
2. Troy wide receiver Deondre Douglas vs. Nebraska secondary
If there’s one thing that we learned about the 2018 now-somewhat-Blackshirt defense, it’s that as of today, they’re susceptible to a quality receiver. We saw this last week when Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. sliced and diced his way to 177 yards on 10 receptions. Enter Douglas.
In Troy’s loss to Boise State, Douglas accounted for 102 yards and a touchdown. He didn't put up the same type of numbers in the Trojans’ win over Florida A&M but still managed to get a touchdown catch among his three receptions. Don’t let those numbers fool you as Troy relied heavily on the run.
After seeing what Shenault did against even the first defensive back to earn a Blackshirt under Frost in Dicaprio Bootle, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Troy offensive coordinator Matt Moore dials up different kinds of plays and looks for quarterback Kaleb Barker to try and get the ball to his No. 1 target.
3. Turnover margin
Any team gives itself a fantastic chance to lose when sporting a minus-three turnover margin as Nebraska did against Colorado. Interestingly enough, the main reason Troy obliterated Florida A&M was due to the four takeaways the Trojans generated, including an interception returned for a touchdown.
While the Huskers are significantly more talented than the Rattlers, the Trojans cannot be given the same opportunities that the Buffaloes were. The good news for the Big Red is that Troy turned the ball over four times versus Boise State and ended the game with a minus-three margin.
Keep in mind that 14 of Colorado’s points versus Nebraska came thanks to the Huskers gifting the ball back. If the Big Red can clean that up, they should have no trouble notching a win. If not, well...
Nebraska accumulated 329 rushing yards against Colorado and that trend is likely to continue, especially if Andrew Bunch steps in at quarterback on Saturday. Look for Greg Bell and Devine Ozigbo to get the lion’s share of the carries with Maurice Washington being given the chance to show off his speed a few times yet again.
Martinez went 15-of-20 last weekend and it seems safe to assume that the Huskers’ starting quarterback will stick to that 17-23 attempt range versus Troy. Don’t forget, Nebraska has tremendous receivers who will get every opportunity to make big plays happen whether or not Martinez is on the bench.
The Trojans have plenty of offensive firepower, so we should expect quarterback Kaleb Barker to mirror some of the same success Colorado’s Steven Montez did, especially if he finds wide receiver Deondre Douglas in the same manner as Montez did Laviska Shenault Jr. However, barring another comedy of turnovers, this should be Scott Frost’s first win at Nebraska.
Prediction: Nebraska 31, Troy 21
— 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.