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  • Scott Frost's first game on the sidelines in Lincoln was supposed to be a joyous homecoming. Laviska Shenault had other ideas.
By Laken Litman
September 08, 2018

The first gameday of the Scott Frost era in Nebraska finally began on Saturday, but it didn’t end in the way the new Cornhuskers head coach wanted: with a home loss and an injured starting quarterback.

There was so much anticipation surrounding Frost’s grand return home to coach his alma mater. Then the celebrations were put on hold when severe thunderstorms cancelled the home opener against Akron in Week 1. This meant Frost’s first game as head coach in Lincoln would come against Colorado, an old rival Nebraska hadn’t played in eight seasons but had once upon a time played 63 consecutive seasons when the programs were members of the Big Eight and Big 12.

Nebraska’s offense stumbled out of the gates, fumbling on its first two possessions. Things settled down from there as quarterback Adrian Martinez, the first true freshman to start at the position in Nebraska history, got into an impressive groove. Martinez flashed serious potential, completing 15 of 20 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 15 times for 117 yards and two more scores. He also had one untimely late interception near midfield that was indicative of his inexperience.

With 3:29 to play and the Huskers trying to protect a one-point lead, Martinez went down with a right leg injury and wouldn’t return. He was replaced by backup walk-on Andrew Bunch, who took a few shots downfield, but was unable to mount a response drive after Colorado quarterback Steven Montez found go-to receiver Laviska Shenault for the deciding touchdown to go up 33–28 with 1:06 left.

For as popular of a storyline as Frost was heading into this game, the Montez-Shenault duo will be one to watch coming out of it. Montez finished 33-of-50 for 351 yards and three touchdowns and Shenault caught 10 passes for 177 yards and the go-ahead score. He had 211 yards receiving, including an 89-yard touchdown, in the Buffs’ win over Colorado State last week.

The last time a team coached by Frost lost was when UCF lost the 2016 Autonation Cure Bowl to Arkansas State. The Knights proceeded to go 13–0 the following season and crowned themselves unofficial national champions following their Peach Bowl win over Auburn.

Frost, 43, was hired to coach Nebraska on Dec. 2 after making the difficult decision to leave UCF after two seasons, choosing the Huskers over several other top programs wooing him. Hall of Fame former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne has said he believes Frost has significantly boosted a sense of excitement and hope in the community after the team went 19–19 over the past three seasons under Mike Riley, who was fired after a 4–8 campaign last year. This is partly because Frost is from the state (Wood River), and partly because of what he did quarterbacking the Huskers to a split national championship in 1997.

This isn’t the way Frost wanted to start things in Lincoln, but there were positive takeaways that signaled improvement from a year ago. For example, the defense needed work this season after ranking 112th in yards per play allowed in 2017. In one game, the Blackshirts looked infinitely better under new coordinator Erik Chinander, who followed Frost from UCF. Chinander helped turn Shaquem Griffin, now a starter with the Seattle Seahawks, into one of the best linebackers in the country last season.

Nebraska recorded seven sacks against Colorado, already half the total it had as a team last season (14, the fewest in Big Ten), and smothered Colorado’s offense, holding the Buffaloes to 44 total rushing yards after being the second-worst rushing defense in the conference a year ago. They’ll need an answer for big playmakers like Shenault, but there was progress.

Nebraska receivers JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan are going to need to continue to deliver for whoever’s under center; the pair combined for 142 yards Saturday, and Morgan led the conference last season with 89.6 yards per game. Additionally, the running game came out strong, piling up 329 yards and three touchdowns.

With a tough schedule ahead, Nebraska has to hope Martinez doesn’t miss significant time. Troy visits Memorial Stadium next week, and the Huskers have road trips this season to Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State. They also host Michigan State in November. Nebraska will likely win more than four games, but it will take time for the program to compete for a conference title. Huskers fans won’t let one heart-stopping loss rain on their beloved new hire.

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