Nebraska football humbled by fumbles, blunders, Shedeur Sanders

BOULDER — When Colorado was finally done having its way with the Cornhuskers for three and a half hours, Matt Rhule reasoned: What’s a few more minutes?

“After a game like that,” the Nebraska football coach said when team staff offered to end his postgame news conference, “I should answer everything.”

Rhule and the Huskers were left humbled by fumbles, self-inflicted blunders and a bludgeoning from the Buffs on Saturday afternoon. Only a literal last-second touchdown slightly saved rival Nebraska (0-2) from maximum humiliation. Instead the final margin was merely 36-14. The Buffs (2-0) even left some points on the field as they pulled away in the second half. It was a thorough rout.

“They’re obviously a super-high-tempo operation, and we knew that coming into it,” quarterback Heinrich Haarberg said. “But they did a good job executing.”

“I thought they made an adjustment, and they just threw a couple balls up on third down that hurt us,” Rhule said, acknowledging Buffs offensive coordinator Sean Lewis. “And the screen game. They went to the screen game because we were kind of showing max. … They’ve got a ton of skill. They’ve got a great young quarterback.”

While Shedeur Sanders emphasized a perceived sign of disrespect that he used as motivation, Rhule and Nebraska players didn’t hesitate after the game to heap praise on Sanders’ 393-yard performance. On third downs in the second half, the Colorado quarterback completed all six throws for 147 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown.

“He’s a great quarterback,” Nebraska defensive back DeShon Singleton said. “He knows how to scramble. Find his guys downfield.”

But Sanders’ scramble magic didn’t explain what happened on the other side of the ball. Nebraska’s offense was a procession of unforced errors. The Cornhuskers fumbled four times throughout the course of an ugly morning — the Buffaloes recovered three of them — but the “how” was more troubling than the “how many.”

Two of the four fumbles were dropped snaps by quarterback Jeff Sims. One was a botched handoff. The other was a snap that never reached Sims, because the ball intersected with a fullback in motion before it could reach the QB’s hands. The Huskers were completely out of sync in timing and communication.

“We always talk about not beating ourselves,” receiver Billy Kemp IV said. “And protecting the ball is the main key of that.”

Sims looked more confident in his legs than he was in his arm for most of the game. When Nebraska had flashes of success, it was from pushing aside CU’s front seven and creating massive running lanes.

Rhule thought that his offense was in control in the trenches for the entire first half, but the snap mishaps snapped Nebraska out of its most positive habits.

“I think part of it is just going back and figuring out what it was (causing the fumbles),” Rhule said. “Is it the cadence? Is it the noise?”

In terms of the latter, he chose to debunk that possibility moments later by asserting that CU’s sold-out atmosphere didn’t have any effect on the Huskers. At least, no more than other road environments do. It was the closest Colorado’s rivals came to throwing any shade at the Buffs. There wasn’t much else the Huskers could say.

“I think every game is a big game that we play in,” Rhule said. “When we go on the road, there’s going to be a packed crowd. There was a packed crowd for Minnesota. There was a packed crowd here today and I’m sure when we go on the road next, there will be a packed crowd.”

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