A tale of two halves: Colorado surges back to conquer Nebraska in OT

Sep 7, 2019; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes running back Jaren Mangham (1) runs in for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It was a forgettable first half for Colorado, complete with a hostile Huskers crowd at Folsom Field. There were plenty of penalties, turnovers and post-play pushing by both teams. And then in the second half, Mel Tucker and Colorado made the necessary adjustments to take rival, No. 25 Nebraska to overtime. James Stefanou sealed the spectacular comeback 34-31 win for Colorado with a 34-yard field goal.

Sloppy from the start, Colorado was charged with multiple penalties on their opening drive. In fact, there were 16 penalties on the day between the two teams. The Buffaloes were unable to put points on the board in the first half due to the dominance of the Huskers defense. It was the first time Nebraska held a team scoreless in the first half since 2016, two seasons before Scott Frost took over as the head coach. The Nebraska supporters outnumbered the Colorado fans in the stands and could be heard the entire game.

The only real positive for Colorado in the first half was the strong punting of Alex Kinney. The offensive line couldn’t keep the Huskers at bay, taking away the rushing attack of Colorado completely and limiting success through the air. The Colorado defense was unable to contain Adrian Martinez and the Buffaloes’ first home game felt far from it, as they trailed at halftime 17-0.

For the second week in a row, Laviska Shenault Jr. did not have the ball in his hands enough to make an impact early. He finished the game with only 31 yards receiving and 6 yards rushing. Even when Shenault worked himself open, the lack of a clean pocket left Steven Montez flustered and hesitant.

It was a very different story for Martinez and the Nebraska offense in the first two quarters. Martinez had all the time in the world in the pocket and wide open rushing lanes. The sophomore quarterback finished the day with 290 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception passing as well as 66 yards and 2 more touchdowns rushing.

The Colorado defense was bullied by the Nebraska offensive line and many plays made their way to the second level. Mikial Onu and Aaron Maddox are strong tacklers at safety but that doesn’t mean they should be making most of the stops. That’s what the front seven is there for.

Much like in the Rocky Mountain Showdown, Mel Tucker’s halftime adjustments helped Colorado gain momentum in the final two quarters and into overtime. Between adapting the game plan and the altitude affecting the Cornhuskers, Colorado started to make plays on both sides of the ball.

An up-tempo drive late in the third quarter resulted in the first Colorado points of the day. Freshman Jaren Mangham carried the ball 11 yards for a touchdown to cap off an eight play, 64-yard drive that ate only 2:24 off the clock. Mangham led the Buffaloes rushing attack with 44 yards and 2 touchdowns. With a little confidence starting to build for the Buffaloes’ offense, the game began to open up.

After forcing a Nebraska punt at the start of the fourth quarter, Colorado called a flea flicker to cut the Husker lead to three points. K.D. Nixon led all receivers with 148 yards, including 96 yards on the second Colorado touchdown of the game.

The following possession for Nebraska, Martinez completed a short pass to Maurice Washington on the first play. Washington took it 75 yards for the score. The Nebraska sophomore running back racked up 77 yards rushing and 118 yards and a touchdown receiving.

Back and forth it went, the rivals trading scores throughout the final quarter of regulation. With under a minute remaining, Tony Brown made a phenomenal grab at the edge of the end zone to tie the game. An interception by Colorado’s Chris Miller in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter stopped Nebraska to send the game to overtime tied at 31.

The Buffaloes took the ball first, and with a James Stefanou field goal they secured their first lead of the game. Nebraska tried to answer, with a chance to win the game if they scored a touchdown or send it into double overtime with a field goal.

On third and long, Mustafa Johnson burst through the Huskers offensive line and sacked Martinez. With the ball on the Colorado 31, Nebraska punter Isaac Armstrong stepped up to kick the 48-yard field goal. Nebraska’s kicker Barrett Pickering missed his second game with a hip flexor injury and Armstrong missed the kick wide right.

Colorado fans stormed the field. All the Nebraska supporters that made the trip and filled the seats with red left Boulder disappointed after Nebraska led for almost all of regulation.

Colorado (2-0) plays Air Force (1-0) next Saturday in Boulder. Kickoff is scheduled for 11:00 AM (MT) and the game will be broadcast on the Pac12 Network.

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