LINCOLN — Nebraska lost to Colorado 34-31 in overtime Saturday, but like often happens the Huskers probably lost the game earlier.
In the third quarter, Nebraska received the kickoff and went nowhere. It was just the start of a rough quarter of play for the Husker offense.
The damage done by that quarter of play didn’t really become apparent until the fourth quarter. Nebraska still led 17-7 going into the final 15 minutes of play, but the defense wore out and the Buffaloes roared back.
“If we score on offense anywhere in the third quarter, I think the game’s probably over,” Husker coach Scott Frost said Monday at his weekly press conference. “We can’t let any team stay in a game that long. We played three really solid quarters on offense. Good enough to win at least. Third quarter was poor.
“Defensively we had played close to three quarters of as good of football as I’ve had a defense play. And then it fell apart.”
Frost said he now thinks the Husker defense got tired in the fourth quarter, although he didn’t think so at the time. Looking at the tape, he saw they just weren’t playing as fast late in the game.
“But that’s on us, as an offense as well for leaving them out on the field as long as we did in the third quarter,” Frost said.
Efficiency was a problem on offense. The Huskers had just four possessions without a sack, penalty or tackle for loss and they scored on all four of those possessions.
“So we’re just not efficient enough to be as consistent as we want to be, but a lot of good things happened in the game,” Frost said. “We’re all heartbroken and disappointed, nobody’s more disappointed than the coaches and the players, but I love how the guys responded today.”
There may have been a mentality issue as well. The
game felt similar to last year’s game against Northwestern. The Huskers led that one 10 points in the fourth quarter and again, lost 34-31 in overtime.
“Instead of thinking, ‘let’s stay on the attack,’ we’ve got to be thinking, ‘is this gonna happen?’” Frost said. “It happened to us once or so last year, and that’s a hurdle you need to get over as a team to make sure you win those games. And again, that’s on us as coaches to make sure that we get that mentality. “
Frost admitted he didn’t see the rough second half coming. At the half, he thought his players were primed to put together a strong second half of play.
He told his players one of two things would happen. Either they mess around and let the Buffaloes back in the game, or they go out and finish them right away.
“They were all excited looked ready to go to me,” Frost said. “I just didn’t maybe feel the sense of urgency, especially on the offensive side in the third quarter.
“Looking back at the tape, there’s always a few play calls you want back on offense and defense. We had them in some good stuff, we just didn’t quite do the little things right that we needed to finish it. I think more than anything it’s a mentality to get over. The expectation to win and desire to go out and make the play that’s going to make it happen.”
The Huskers did score 14 points in the fourth quarter. The first touchdown came on a 75-yard pass from Adrian Martinez to running back Maurice Washington. Martinez later added a 6-yard TD run.
But that needed to happen in the third quarter.
“I noticed that we were stalling a little bit there and it became apparent, and I knew that we needed to get a touchdown,” Martinez said. “But, there are several things that needed to happen, and I think that key thing is getting that first down and getting those chains moving and kind of getting the flow of the offense back. I think that is a critical thing.”
That never happened in the third quarter, and if the offense can’t get in rhythm the defense suffers as well.
“When we get a first down going, we are going to be on the field longer and then I feel confident about using tempo more, getting in a rhythm where you can set something up with something else,” Frost said. “When we are not operating quite efficiently enough, then those don’t just flow.
“One play here or there leads to another one, leads to another one. At times we get that rolling and it looks really pretty. Other times we kind of sputter and cough, then we have trouble finding our rhythm.”