On September 17, 2016, Nebraska defeated the No. 22 Oregon Ducks, their last victory over a team ranked in the AP Top 25. The Huskers’ most recent victory on the road came against No. 12 Penn State on November 12, 2011.
Nebraska had the potential to end both of these dry spells while also preventing Deion Sanders from making his home debut. But in the end, the Huskers were defeated 36-14, leaving them empty-handed on Saturday against No. 22 Colorado.
The key factor in the defeat was the turnover battle, as Nebraska turned the ball over four times, matching their total from last week’s 13-10 loss to Minnesota.
“We always talk about ‘don’t beat ourself,’ and protecting the ball is the main key to that,” senior wide receiver Billy Kemp IV said postgame. “So, like I said, we just have to keep practicing, and working on protecting the ball.”
Starting the game strong offensively, the Huskers moved the ball downfield to the 31-yard line, including two passes completed for 17 and 21 yards by junior quarterback Jeff Sims. Sims fumbled the snap, allowing the Buffaloes to recover the ball at the 35-yard line, and the drive came to an abrupt end.
On its first drive, Colorado likewise had good ball movement, but a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and an intentional grounding ended the drive and necessitated a punt to return the ball to Nebraska. Contrary to how many observers expected the first quarter to proceed against a potent Colorado attack, two Nebraska three-and-outs and one by Colorado concluded the first quarter 0-0.
The Buffaloes’ drive would have been stopped by the Huskers if it weren’t for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on the sidelines following an incomplete throw on third down. Even though Nebraska was penalized and the ball was down at the nine-yard line, the Blackshirt defense still forced Colorado to punt, which was expensive.
First up on the drive was sophomore running back Gabe Ervin Jr.’s 26-yard rush, which was followed by an 18-yard completion to Kemp IV. Two plays later, junior running back Rahmir Johnson gained six yards, followed by another strong carry by Ervin Jr. for 13 yards, putting the ball at the 24-yard line.
On third-and-five, the Huskers were in danger when a snapped ball hit moving tight end Luke Lindenmeyer, a freshman. Fortunately for Nebraska, Lindenmeyer was able to trip up the Huskers’ defender and recover the ball. Tristan Alvano, a rookie kicker, was then able to convert a 45-yard field goal. He only attempted two field goals during his college career, but he struck the upright at a crucial time. The miss resulted in a score of 0 on the scoreboard.
The Huskers’ defense played well even after the unsuccessful drive, forcing another three-and-out. The Blackshirts caused Colorado, who scored 45 points against TCU, trouble during the first half.
Sims fumbled another snap on the first play following the punt, giving the Buffaloes the ball on the Nebraska 19-yard line. The Husker defense had to return to the field quickly and forced another three-and-out, which led to a Colorado field goal to break the tie.
Sims made another error on the very next drive, tossing an interception at the Nebraska 30-yard line, giving Colorado even another short field. With 2:35 left in the half, sophomore quarterback Shedeur Sanders of Colorado proved to be too much for the Husker defense, throwing a score on the very next play.
Sims committed three errors in the first half, but Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule still elected to play him.
The Buffaloes marched down the field and converted a field goal with one second left to give themselves a 13-0 lead going into halftime after a brief drive that required Nebraska to punt. This was Colorado’s first lead against Nebraska at the break since 2004.
Nebraska scored on its opening possession of the second half thanks to a superb play call after failing to score in the first half. Sims broke off his first run of the second half for a 57-yard house call to cut the score to 13-7 after only successfully carrying the ball six times in the first half.
This served as a warning for Colorado. On the very next drive, it responded by covering 75 yards in 10 plays for another touchdown. With a score of 20-7, Sanders connected with senior wide receiver Xavier Weaver to increase the Buffaloes’ advantage back to 13.
Colorado scored 23 points in a row from this point on to completely dominate the remainder of the game. Even though Nebraska managed to score another touchdown in the last seconds, Colorado still prevailed 36-14.
Sims suffered an injury with 9:21 yet to play and quit the game after that. After the game, Rhule suggested that it might be a high-ankle sprain, but the team won’t know for sure until later.
The defeat left the Huskers winless. On September 16th against Northern Illinois at Memorial Stadium, they will have their next opportunity to record their first win under Rhule.