It’s a rivalry renewed this Saturday when the Colorado Buffaloes (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) head to Lincoln to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-0, Big Ten) in week two of the 2018 college football schedule. Nebraska and Colorado faced each other regularly over the past 80 years. It wasn’t until Colorado joined the Big Seven conference in 1948 that both schools carried out a yearly affair. That arrangement lasted until both teams realigned with their current respective conferences from the Big 12 in 2012.
The first meeting between Fred Folsom’s ‘no name’ Colorado team and the Nebraska Bugeaters came 120 years ago on Nov. 17, 1898 in Boulder. It wasn’t much of a contest for the hometown team against the group of mostly young farmers—as a short blip in the evening edition of the Omaha World-Herald read “Nebraskans defeat Boulder.”
History is everything in the storied series with a new chapter set to be written between Colorado and Nebraska on Saturday. Scott Frost returns to Lincoln for his first season as head coach of the Cornhuskers after pulling off an undefeated season and a share of (some sort of) a national championship at UCF last year. With all the success and hype coming into this season at Nebraska, nobody could’ve predicted Frost’s debut would be pushed back a week due to a weather cancellation vs. Akron. It was the Huskers’ first weather-related cancellation since the 1940s.
Colorado hasn’t fared well historically at Memorial Stadium with just eight wins in 34 tries. But it’s a new era for both programs that won’t take history into account. The Buffs picked up a 45-13 win over Colorado State in the Rocky Mountain Showdown and Nebraska waits for another shot at their season opener.
The Buffs have the “game speed” experience under their belts, along with time to correct mistakes before seeing the Cornhuskers. On the other hand, Nebraska takes Colorado’s game film from the RMS with nothing to offer in return.
“As coaches, of course we want to get the film and get to work on it, but we didn’t get any,” CU coach Mike MacIntyre noted. Frost is likely to run a similar offensive style to what was orchestrated at UCF— at least a version of that is what the Buffs are preparing for.
“Film does matter, but hopefully our offense, defense and special teams will be able to handle anything they give us.”
Frost sees the Buffaloes as a talented team under MacIntyre. “They’re coached very well,” Frost told the Omaha World-Herald. “You don’t see them out of position ever. They’ve got a middle linebacker that made a bunch of plays, some really good guys on the secondary, some good guys up front. I think schematically they do some really good things on offense, had two receivers that played really well and a quarterback that had great numbers.”
A total of 34 players made their Colorado debut against the Rams, including 11 players making their first career start. The result was six different players scoring touchdowns as the Buffs posted their most points against Colorado State since 1996.
Buffs QB Steven Montez put together a solid offseason and it showed on Friday night. He set a school record for highest completion percentage per 15 attempts (22-of-25 88%, 338 passing yards and five total TD’s). He shattered the previous mark set by Kordell Stewart (81.3%) at Baylor in 1992. Some of the noticeable differences from last season to CU’s opener was Montez’s composure in the pocket and abililty to distribute his passes to five of CU’s primary receiving targets (four with a touchdown reception). Laviska Shenault grew into his starting role quite well, leading all Buffs receivers with 11 receptions for 211 yards, including a 89-yard touchdown catch and run. On the ground, the Buffs rushing attack of Travon McMillian, Kyle Evans and Beau Bisharat beat down CSU’s defense for 214 yards on the night.
Colorado faces a Nebraska defense with a 3-4 scheme similar to their own—using two inside linebackers instead of a hybrid safety Buff backer. Expect the new-look Cornhuskers to play with more of a tenacious approach from previous years. Nebraska’s first-year defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, like many others, followed Frost from UCF to Nebraska seeing the opportunity to build a better defense. Chinander’s task of shifting linebackers Luke Gifford or Caleb Tannor, along with Tyrin Ferguson or Breon Dixon into pass rush situations using multiple formations is a necessary tool to execute consistent pressure on Montez.
Knowing the Buffaloes are familiar with several of the looks coming from Nebraska’s defense, CU offensive coordinators Darrin Chiaverini and Klayton Adams will likely keep a rolling list of play calls for Montez to check down. Montez’s challenge will be spreading out the offense and finding gaps left by Nebraska’s linebacker or safeties who might be over pursuing. The way to beat Nebraska is by attacking the open space left along the defensive line with a battering run game up the middle of the field. It will take a methodical approach with clock management and control over the turnover battle.
Nebraska’s spread offense favors an up-tempo triple option style— a close facsimile to Chip Kelly’s Oregon offenses. Frost and UCF ran the same look with an option to hand off to a running back running inside left, or quarterback keeper to the right and pitch. Colorado defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot will have prepare his defense to decipher between the sweep read and the option that Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters is notorious for disguising at the line.
Cornhuskers QB Adrian Martinez will try to catch CU’s linebackers out of position by loading up either side of the line and hoping to shift directions successfully— a base concept we saw Oregon run a thousand times throughout the years. Martinez, a dual-threat passer, comes to Lincoln as a four-star recruit from Clovis West (Calif.) High School after being forced to miss his senior year with an injured shoulder. He’ll be making history as the first true freshman to start a season-opener for Nebraska.
The difference between the offense Walters and Frost are expected to run at Nebraska and the style Kelly deployed at Oregon are the alignments of pre-snap movements. Walters draws up the play to attract an extra defender toward the line of scrimmage. UCF’s offensive drives last season thrived out of their no-huddle attack, forcing defenses to quickly adjust to shifts and motions. A saving grace for the Buffs defense is their ability to line up correctly against multiple formations. Nebraska offensive will primarily be based around the same concepts with zone reads and sweeps.
“I’d rather be dead than red. This is more important than any other game.” - Former CU coach Bill McCartney
News and notes
From the desk of Dave Plati:
“Colorado averaged over eight yards per play of offense for the first time since 2013 (8.0 versus FCS Charleston Southern) when the Buffs had 596 yards on 65 plays, or 9.17 play in the opener against Colorado State. The last time CU averaged over eight yards against an FBS opponent? Have to circle back to Sept. 18, 2004 against North Texas, when CU ran 72 plays for 586 yards, averaging 8.14 per. CU did not allow a sack by CSU, just the fourth time in the last 23 season openers that the opponent failed to get to the quarterback (2014, 2008, 2004).”
Colorado hits the road to play Nebraska on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 1:30 p.m. MT. The 70th meeting between the schools from neighboring states is expected to be a sellout of over 85,000 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Nebraska leads in the all-time series 49-18-2 including a stretch between 1968 and 1985 in which Colorado failed to beat Nebraska when both programs were members of the Big 8.
National Coach of the Year winners from subsequent years square off— CU’s Mike MacIntyre (2016) and Nebraska’s Scott Frost (2017) when he was at Central Florida. The last time the previous two consensus national winners faced each was in 2010. TCU’s Gary Patterson defeated Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, 47-7 in Salt Lake City on Nov. 6.
TV: ABC (National)
Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson & Gary Barnett)
Weather forecast: 69° Mostly cloudy
Vegas odds: Nebraska -4.5