It’s difficult to put into words the meaning of Colorado’s comeback victory over Nebraska. This is a signature win for CU’s past and present as they beat a historic rival through the culture of toughness and accountability instilled by Mel Tucker. It was the most important recruiting day on the calendar as the Buffs brought in all kinds of visitors — football and basketball — to see what Colorado football is all about. Whatever happens to Scott Frost and Nebraska, this win will have significant ramifications for CU football.
Buffs fans sold their tickets, souls
As the Buffs struggled in that horrid first half, the worst part about it was seeing how badly Huskers fans had taken over Folsom Field. They were everywhere, they were loud, and they made this a road game. The University of Colorado tried their hardest to deter Nubs fans from getting tickets, but it didn’t matter because so many season ticket holders sold theirs. It must have been great for Boulder’s tourism economy as 30,000 visitors filled up every Motel 6 this side of I-25. But those CU fans sold out their team. They let in a hostile enemy and, if not for that comeback, this game would have been permanent in Nebraska’s lore. The only justice is that those sellout fans missed a classic, the Nubs fans had a sad drive home, and the student section — which you are no longer allowed to criticize for no-showing — got to rush the field.
Mel Tucker adjusts at halftime; Jay Johnson has balls
Colorado could not have won if not for masterful coaching by both Mel Tucker and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson. Tucker figured out a way to pressure Adrian Martinez without allowing him to scramble, which resulted in 6 sacks and an erratic thrower. They also fixed the holes in their pass coverage and forced Martinez into difficult throws he couldn’t make. As the Huskers scuttled, the Buffs pounced with aggressiveness, causing two strip sacks and an interception in the second half.
Johnson, meanwhile, calmed down Steven Montez, got the offense going through quick passes that let everyone get into a rhythm. After the Buffs got on the board, the real turning point came when Johnson dialed up a flea flicker from their own 4-yard-line. Montez threw a perfect pass and K.D. Nixon scored the 96-yard touchdown, the longest play in Buffs history. After that play, it was clear the Buffs were in this to win and that they were going to be aggressive in doing so. That combined with Scott Frost coaching not to lose meant CU had them on their heels. Calling the Vegas Glance on the game-tying Tony Brown touchdown was the cherry on top of an unforgettable second half.
Players making plays
Great coaching doesn’t matter if the players don’t make plays. After a half like that, previous CU teams would have given up at halftime, but they have a different attitude this year. They’re tough as hell, conditioned to fight, and they have the confidence to pull such a comeback.
Start with Montez. He’s such a hot-and-cold quarterback that it’s maddening. Folks were clamoring for a QB change at halftime, partly because they’re fools, and partly because they were rightfully frustrated. Spooked Montez has always been death for the offense, but this time around, someone exorcised him at halftime. Thanks to adjustments in Johnson’s gameplan, Montez gained confidence with quick passes to open receivers. Then his throw on that flea flicker was perfect. He dropped in more dimes to Brown, Nixon, Brady Russell and the perpetually double-teamed Laviska Shenault. This comeback attempt is null without a perfect throw and a terrific catch by Tony Brown on the game-tying score.
If you start the comeback with Montez, you have to end it with Mustafa Johnson. Colorado’s defensive scheme is worthless without a pass rush. We saw that in the first half, just as we saw it against CSU. Tchangam made plays off the edge, Mekhi Blackmon had a Chido-esque strip sack on a blitz, and Johnson beat the hell out of people. Johnson’s strip sack put CU in position for the game-tying field goal (when it was 24-24). Then in overtime, it was his sack on 3rd-and-9 that moved the Huskers into an impossible field goal for their backup kicker. Additional shoutouts to Davion Taylor, Nate Landman and Akil Jones, who also made huge plays and various junctures.
Players make plays, players win games, and these players won their best ever game.