LINCOLN — All things considered, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said he came away relatively pleased with Andrew Bunch’s performance.
A sophomore making his first collegiate start in place of injured No. 1 quarterback Adrian Martinez, Bunch completed 19 of 27 pass attempts for 177 yards and two touchdowns. However, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder from Thompson’s Station, Tennessee, was also sacked three times and intercepted twice as Troy pulled off a 24-19 upset victory on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“I thought he did a good job, getting thrown into that situation — both kids did,” Frost said, referring to Bunch and Martinez, who started as a true freshman the previous week in a 33-28 home loss to Colorado. “We’ve started two kids that are both (first-year players) in their first start ever in our first two games.
“I thought Adrian played really well in the first one. For what we asked (Bunch) to do, I thought he did a good job.”
Frost said Nebraska’s game plan was to rely on its running game and defense. However, that approach pretty much had to be scrapped as Troy built a 17-0 lead after B.J. Smith’s 9-yard TD run with 5:12 remaining in the second quarter that followed a previous Trojans’ TD on a 58-yard punt return by Cedarius Rookard.
“We kind of wanted to ugly the game up and lean on them early and that’s impossible to do once you give up a punt return, turn the ball over and you spot them two scores,” Frost said. “When we asked (Bunch) to make throws, I thought he made some really good throws and did some good things.
“We got off of our rhythm and game plan early and what we went into the game wanting to do because of how the first quarter went.”
Frost said he never really considered bringing Martinez into the game. The true freshman suffered a knee injury late in NU’s setback against the Buffaloes, but tests revealed no significant damage.
“Adrian wasn’t ready to go today,” Frost said. “He actually looked really good in warmups, but we were just worried about … look, he’s going to be here a long time and our decisions are going to be made based on his long-term health more than anything and (playing him) wasn’t an option.”
Bunch said it was difficult for Nebraska’s offense, having to overcome a big early deficit.
“That’s frustrating. It’s never easy to play from behind, but regardless we should be able to move the ball at any point in the game, so that’s really frustrating,” Bunch said. “And then mistakes like just turning the ball over or me having two critical errors — one in a critical point of the game — hat is really frustrating.”
Bunch’s first interception came when he tried to force a throw into coverage with 59 seconds left in the first quarter. With the Huskers trailing by five points and timing running out, Troy all but sealed the win when linebacker Will Sunderland picked off an errant Bunch pass with 2:15 to play, allowing the Trojans to run out the clock.
Frost said Troy’s defense didn’t hit Bunch and Nebraska with any big surprises.
“If I was the D coordinator on the other side and I saw another quarterback and a (sophomore), making his first start, I’d get a lot of people in the box and that’s what they did,” Frost said. “They were inserting (a weakside linebacker) off the the weak side, safety off to the field, sending people, giving us different looks and kind of giving us underneath routes, not deep ones.
“Really, the way to beat that was the intermediate passing game and maybe some quarterback runs, (but) we just didn’t want to sell out with that game plan. We thought we’d be able to run it on them and, at times, we did. We were just not consistent enough.”
Bunch said he prepared as if he was going to be the starter all week and didn’t really feel overly nervous. He looked comfortable at times and had a 9-yard TD pass to wide receiver Stanley Morgan with 3:02 remaining in the second quarter and also threw a 7-yard scoring pass to wide receiver JD Spielman with 2:55 to play, cutting the Trojans’ lead to have points. Bunch’s pass on a two-point conversion attempt was overthrown.
“I never felt overwhelmed,” Bunch said. “I was excited to play, sometimes things just seem they are going my way and sometimes I’ve made some decisions I wish I could take back.”
Regardless of Martinez’s status for next Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at Michigan, Bunch said he’ll continue to put in the work and be prepared to play.
“I think the best way that you can lead is to do your job perfectly,” Bunch said. “Guys that I’ve always looked up to as leaders are guys that are always on time to meetings and take every rep seriously, so for me the best thing I try to do is I try to do my job perfect every time.”