Okay, Husker Nation, let me set the scene for you...
I pull into Lot 9 on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, already sweating and trust me it wasn’t because of the heat. I pull into my spot, grab my bag with all my gear, and proceed to make the short walk to the stadium to cover the Saturday match up with the Buffalo Bulls. I arrive extra early as to show professionalism, but also excitement, at this opportunity. I walk in to grab my credentials and take the elevator up to Level 6. A sight my eyes never thought they would see suddenly emotion overtook me as I looked out on the Cathedral of College Football that is Memorial Stadium. I’M IN THE PRESS BOX!!!
On a day that is all about remembrance, this is a moment this particular writer will be telling his grandchildren about long after he stops tapping keys on a keyboard and trying to get people too like what he writes. But, on the 20th Anniversary of the attacks that shattered our country on the Morning of September 11, 2001, we as football fans have another reason to remember.
We remember in the week that followed, a matchup against the Rice Owls . Not so much the game, a 48-3 win by the #4 ranked Huskers; but how we felt in the stadium and in our living rooms across this country watching the Tunnel Walk honor our Police Officers, Firefighters, and First Responders.
It was a moment I remember vividly as a 11 year old boy, the son of a man who served in the Army for more than 20 years of his life, the grandson of police officers, EMT’s, and Nurses. It was a moment where my small world changed, and I realized that our Country would never be the same. Patriotism in the days, weeks, and months that followed were some of the most shining moments I can recall in our nations history. We comforted one another. We endured. We Never Forgot.
Alright, I’m going to stop before I cry harder than I did watching Steve from Blue’s Clues tell me he never forgot about me. Seriously, Steve, I didn’t know as a 30 year old man how much I needed that.
So how did the Huskers remember the events of 20 years ago, and what type of performance did the Big Red give to the 85,663 faithful fans of the Big Red. Read on.
PRE GAME NOTES AND THE TUNNEL WALK
So the Huskers started the game depleted at the WR position, with both Omar Manning and Oliver Martin unavailable for the game against the Bulls. Travis Vokolek and Casey Rogers continue to be absent as well.
The Husker Media Department did not disappoint with their tribute to the fallen of 9/11. Beginning with the video released with Navy SEAL Veteran and Husker player, Damian Jackson, showing respect to his fellow heroes. Then leading a Nurse, a Firefighter, Paramedic, and Police Officer; Jackson walked out displaying our Flag and leading our team onto the field. It was eerily similar to the Tunnel Walk of 20 years ago, emotions were high on both sidelines, as well as among the fans in the stands.
Nebraska won the coin toss and chose to differ to the 2nd Half.
Another Touchback to start. I love having a Kicker who can do that! Brendan Franke = STUD!
First play of the game, TFL! It wasn’t until back to back penalties by Buffalo, a holding call and a false start, did the defense force a punt on 4th and 7 after a 11 play 48 yard drive stalled.
Markese Stepp was the first up in the RB-By-Committee carousel. A nice pop pass to Zavier Betts, and a solid catch by Austin Allen, who was shaken up after the catch but made it off under his own power, kept the drive moving early. A 15 yard facemask by the Bulls put the Huskers closer to their end zone. The drive stalled at the 14 yard line after a valiant run by Martinez on 3rd and 12. Connor Culp misses the 32 yard Field Goal. Buffalo takes possession. 3:38 in the 1st.
3 and out for the Bulls, after a awesome pass break up by Cam Taylor-Britt. Bulls Punt. 2:44 remaining.
Time runs out in the 1st with Nebraska in possession on Buffalo’s 33 yard line.
Huskers: 0 Bulls: 0
***Premature Balloon Release*** After what looked like a Samori Toure walk-in touchdown from 26 yards out on 4th and 3, a 15 yard Offensive Pass Interference moved us to 4th and 18 on Bulls 41 yard line. Daniel Cerni punts for touchback. 13:46 in the 2nd.
Damion Daniels provided a TFL of 2 yards to bring up 4th and 5 on the 46 yard line of Buffalo. Bulls punt. Touchback. Huskers take over on the 20. 8:40 remaining until Halftime.
A AMAZING RUN of 71 yards by Martinez on 3rd and 5 to the 4 yard line...AND...ANOTHER FACEMASK BY THE BULLS. 1st and 2 at the 2.
Gabe Ervin Jr, takes it in from 2 yards out. 4 plays, 80 yards, Culp extra point good.
6:56 remaining in the Half. Huskers: 7 Bulls: 0
Bulls go for it on 4th Down. Denied. The Blackshirts, lead by Luke Reimer, get the offense back on the field. 4:31 remaining until Halftime.
A penalty by Bryce Benhart takes away a nice touchdown grab, leading to a 3 and out, Cerni punts. Buffalo takes over at it’s 14 yard line. 2:28 left.
Three and Out by the Bulls. Appearing to go for it on 4th and 5 from their 19 yard line, Bulls QB Kyle Vantrease, boots a 81 yard punt covering nearly the entire length of the field into the end zone for a touchback.
On 1st and 10 from the 32 yard line, Samari Toure, the grad transfer from Montana gets behind the defense and hooks up with Adrian Martinez for a 68 yard touchdown reception.
Culp kicks the extra point good. In 58 seconds, 4 plays, and 80 yards the Huskers lead the Buffalo Bulls 14-0.
Franke Touchback...Feels so natural to say now. Like it is automatic.
Buffalo drives for a 52 yard field goal attempt with 4 seconds remaining in the half. Missed.
Halftime Score: Huskers 14l Bulls 0
The offense looked in control of their emotions through the first half, despite the missing pieces at WR. Add to that Allen going off early in the game, as well as Zavier Betts coming off late with injury, Martinez is keeping his guys under control and focused. 7-9 for 116 yards and a TD was a good start for the signal caller from Fresno, CA.
All three running backs saw touches in the first half. Stepp led off (6 for 11 yards), the Ervin Jr. (4 for 5 yards, 1 TD), and finally Morrison (6 for 17 yards). I liked the explosion of Morrison but Stepp looks like the best option yet. Martinez (6 for 110 yards) made smart decisions in pulling down the ball and running. He is now in the 2,000 career rushing yard club.
The Blackshirts were tackling well. A handful of TFL’s early, and holding the Bulls offense to 137 yards at the half, made me very optimistic about the second half and the defense being able to pin their ears back and get after Vantrease.
Huskers receive second half kick.
After a nifty shovel pass of 27 yards from Martinez to TE Chris Hickman, the drive stalls at the 24 yard line. Connor Culp misses another field goal, this one from 42 yards out. Bulls take over with 12:25 in the 3rd.
The Bulls drive to past the 50 yard line, but severe penalties still seemed to pop up for the Bulls. Aided by a 15 yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty by Buffalo Bulls RB Dylan McDuffie on Husker Safety, Marquel Dismuke, the Bulls attempted a 45 yard field goal. Kicker Alex McNulty attempt was good. 9:17 remaining.
Huskers: 14 Bulls: 3
Huskers take the touchback to the 49 yard line, but no further. Cerni comes onto punt. 29 yard punt called on fair catch. 6:16 remaining.
Buffalo and Huskers trade penalties. Sideline Interference for Buffalo. Personal Foul-Continuing without a Helmet by Damion Daniels. Penalties are 6 for 55 yards for Huskers, 7 for 73 yards for the Bulls thus far.
Bulls punt for 40 yards. Toure fair catch signaled at the 11 yard line. 4:16 remaining in the 3rd.
Drive stalls by the Big Red on Buffalo’s 41 yard line. But Punter, Daniel Cerni, pins the Bulls on their 2 yard line. 1:49 remaining until the 4th Quarter.
Time expires with Buffalo in possesion on their own 14 yard line.
Nebraska: 14 Buffalo: 3
INTERCEPTION! LUKE REIMER! FIRST PLAY! His first career INT is taken down to the 1 yard line. Ervin Jr. into the endzone for the 2nd time today. Culp extra point good. 14:47 remaining in the game.
1 play, 1 yard, 4 seconds. Beat that Oregon.
Cornhuskers: 21 Bulls: 3
Franke Touchback. Nope. Wait. I was wrong. NOOOOO!
Vantrease leads Bulls to Nebraska 34 yard line and goes for it on Fourth Down. Hurried by Jojo Domann, the Blackshirts would not be denied. Turnover on downs. 11:01 remaining in the game.
Huskers drive to mid-field and punt. Bulls fair catch called at 18 yard line. 7:51 remains.
Another special teams mistake by the Huskers after a punt on 4th down by the Bulls. A Husker defender was blocked into Cam Taylor-Britt after he had called a fair catch. Football was mishandled. The Buffalo punter recovers. 7:02 remaining. Bulls at Nebraska’s 39 yard line.
3 and out Bulls. 50 yard attempt by Buffalo was no good. Huskers took over with 6:03 remaining in the game.
1 Play, 68 yards, 10 seconds. Martinez to Toure for the 2nd time today. This connection is going to be special all season. Culp was good on the PAT. 5:53 remains.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: 28 Buffalo Bulls: 3
Buffalo drives to 21 with a pass break up by LB Eteva Mauga-Clements on 3rd and 10. Buffalo attempts a 42 yard field goal. Misses. 2:45 remaining.
A chance to see 2nd team offense lead by Logan Smothers. The freshman from Muscle Sholes, AL hooked up with Chris Hickman on a 54 yard pass up the right sideline to the 17 yard line. Then it gets interesting, Husker fans.
On 3rd and 6 on the 13 yard line, Smothers delivers a pitch to freshman WR Will Nixon who promptly takes it in for 6 points to add an exclamation point on the game. Or not.
After a review, the officials determined that it was a forward pass and the touchdown was negated. You can watch that all you want and I don’t see any forward movement from the football. And those fans remaining in Memorial Stadium let Referee Greg Blum and his crew hear it.
No matter. Culp will kick the field goal. 31-3. Cake. Again...not so fast, Culp (apparently) missed a 34 yard attempt. Looked good to me, but what do I know, I’m just a writer. Buffalo takes over with ;05 seconds.
A run. And ballgame.
FINAL: CORNHUSKERS: 28 BULLS: 3
WALK-ON WHO STOOD OUT
With this I’m pinpointing a reserve TE who was called on early with a exit by Austin Allen in the first quarter, Chancellor Brewington. Brewington was on the field early again and asked to flex outside, as well as block the interior. This grad transfer may be asked to do more if the TE room continues to take hits.
PLAYERS ON FIRE
Ironically, the on field temperature of 127.5 degrees Fahrenheit wasn’t what had these players shooting flames. It was their play on the field.
Offensively, WR Samori Toure. He only had 2 catches, but they were the ones that matter, both touchdowns, both from 68 yards out. He has a good connection with Martinez at the moment, and you can be sure the Sooners will be looking to lock down that connection next Saturday.
Defensively, I had to go with ILB Luke Reimer. He had a monster game. 16 total tackles. 7 solo. 9 assisted. His first career INT for a 22 yard return (and touchdown, if you watch the replay...HE HIT THE PYLON!!!) As well as another pass break up. The former walk-on, now scholarship linebacker, put on a memorable performance for Husker Nation today! Go celebrate, young man!
POST GAME PRESS CONFERENCE
Coach Frost took the podium first, as usual, and it’s no secret, he looked spent. His team got the win, but you could tell the atmosphere of the game and the “bigger than football” moments were the ones he seemed genuinely emotional to speak on.
“It was unbelievable in the country after that. I wish it could be more like that again.”
-Coach Frost asked about the emotions of 9/11 remembrance in the Tunnel Walk.
Coach Frost also presented a jersey to the family of Corporal Daegan Page, the Nebraska native who was tragically killed, and was recently brought home to a heroes welcome and burial here in Lincoln. Frost was visibly emotional and you could tell that it was the least he could do. “It puts it into perspective” said Frost.
I asked only one question, to Adrian Martinez, I wanted to know what his trust level was in the receiving corp behind the injured Martin and Manning, I singled out Brody Belt and Levi Falk.
“100%. Love those guys, we have a great unit there. Top to Bottom. Side note: Brody Belt’s my roommate so lots of chemistry there.”
As a listener of Athletes Unfiltered, I did know this, but should others be asked to step up, Adrian will work with whoever is one the field. I did point and smile at Adrian when he said this, I slipped up and had a fan moment. Sorry, Jon.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Wow. What a day. My first game covering Husker Football from the press box, the atmosphere of remembering 9/11, the fact I got to sit in a room with athletes and coaches and sports writers I have spent my life watching from the comforts of my television screen on my couch. It was my moment of perspective. My journey to where I have been, to where I am now. I told my wife as I left the post game press conference via text, “If I never get to experience this again, I’ll never forget it.” It was everything I could have asked for, and more. So if this was it, it was worth it. The sky is dark around Memorial Stadium, but I have some takes before I take the two hour drive home.
First, this was a win. A win over a MAC team that represented itself in it’s championship game just last season. It’s a team who lost it’s coach late in Lance Leipold to Kansas, but they were returning pieces from that team that did give the Huskers fits today. Okay, you may not be happy with 28-3, especially considering the missed field goals and two called back touchdown plays. But the Huskers handled their business and are now 2-1 heading into a match up with former Big 12/Big 8 rival, Oklahoma. Oh, not to mention the anniversary of the 1971 Game of the Century. We have one week to answer some questions.
- Will our receiving corp be back to full strength, or are we truly about to test the “trust” Adrian has in our options in the second and third tier depth at WR and TE?
- Is Coach Chinander’s defense ready for a match up against a high powered, high scoring Oklahoma Sooners offense, lead by Heisman contender, Spencer Rattler at QB?
- Can the Huskers find their answer to the Special Teams woes that seem to stick to this squad like bad aftershave?
- Will I be covering the next home game, or am I fired from Corn Nation?
These are the burning questions we need answers to between now and kickoff next Saturday. But until then, enjoy this win Husker Nation. It’s an easier work week for all of us if the Cornhuskers win on a Saturday.