LINCOLN — Nebraska quarterback Andrew Bunch's first start at Nebraska got off to an inauspicious start against Troy in Lincoln on Saturday, ending in a turnover- and penalty-plagued 24-19 loss.
Nebraska Head Coach Scott Frost said he decided not to risk further injury to Adrian Martinez with the start of conference play.
NU was thrust into a situation many teams don't face — handing the ball to young quarterbacks for their first starts collegiately in consecutive games.
"For what we asked Bunch to do, I thought he did a good job. We kind of wanted to ugly the game up and not lean on him early," Frost said. "That's impossible to do once you give up the punt return and turn the ball over and you spot them two scores. We had to lean on him, and when we asked him to make throws, I thought he made some really good throws and did some good things."
On his first series behind center, Bunch attempted to allude tacklers running to his left, and was thrown for a 10-yard loss — one of three sacks by the Troy defense.
It was the beginning of a rocky day for Bunch and the Nebraska offense as a whole. The sophomore walk-on replaced the injured Martinez, who was moving around pretty well in pre-game warmups.
On Nebraska's second series, Bunch made a nice 10-yard run and a pass completion rolling to his right to tight end Jack Stoll, who fumbled at the Troy 43-yard line.
With Troy leading 3-0, Bunch threw an interception to Troy defensive back Tyler Murray near the end of the first quarter.
With Nebraska trailing 17-0 near the end of the first half, Bunch engineered a 65-yard scoring drive capped off with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Stanley Morgan to cut the lead to 17-7.
At half, the sophomore from Thompson's Station, Tennessee, had 92 yards on 10 of 14 passing.
The most eye-popping stat at half: NU converted just one of six third-down attempts. Bunch finished the game with 19 of 27 passing for 177 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The run game was a bit of a letdown this week, as NU finished with 187 yards on 48 carries.
Freshman Maurice Washington led the way with 92 yards on 14 carries. Last week against Colorado with Martinez leading the way, Nebraska finished with 329 yards on the ground on 54 rushes.
Bunch said he knew early in the week that he would be the starter.
"We want to be able to move the ball at will at any point," he said. "But then keeping a lot of bodies in the box, be able to take advantage of the perimeter. I felt like at sometimes today we were doing that, other times we just couldn't get things to click. It's never easy to play from behind, but regardless we should be able to move the ball at any point in the game, so that's really frustrating."
Bunch engineered two drives that ended in field goals, including a 32-yarder by Brett Pickering near the end of the third quarter to pull Nebraska to within 17-13.
Nebraska trailed 17-13 heading into the fourth quarter. But the climb back was made harder when Troy's BJ Smith raced 26 yards for a touchdown run with 6:45 to play to extend the lead to 24-13.
Bunch led NU on a 62-yard drive late in the game, completing all four of his passes including a 26-yarder to tight end Kurt Rafdal to move the chains to the Troy 16.
After two Devine Ozigbo rushes for nine yards, Bunch threw his second touchdown strike of the day to JD Spielman for seven yards. Nebraska's two-point conversion failed and Troy led 24-19.
Nebraska forced a Troy punt on the next possession and NU had the ball at its own 28 with 2:55 to play. On the second play of the next Nebraska drive, Bunch was picked off by linebacker Will Sunderland to end the game.
Frost was asked in the postgame whether he considered playing Martinez.
"No, Adrian wasn’t ready to go today," he said. "He actually looked really good in warm-ups, but we were just worried about it. Look, he's going to be here a long time, and our decision will be made based on his long-term health more than anything. That wasn't an option."