LINCOLN — Nebraska's new-look defense under Eric Chinander isn't taking the field seeking moral victories.
Yet in NU's heartbreaking 33-28 loss to Colorado in Lincoln on Saturday, a defense in search of Blackshirts showed signs of dominance in sacking Colorado quarterback Steven Montez seven times.
Keep in mind, Nebraska's defense totaled just 14 sacks all season in 2017.
It was the first time since Michigan in 2013 that Nebraska recorded that many sacks in a game.
"I told the guys I thought we fought real hard," said senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg.
"It was awesome to see our D line and linebackers go after the quarterback like that. That's one thing we can build on. We've got a lot of things to work on."
Colorado's offense drove 87 yards on just eight plays to grab the early 7-0 lead over Nebraska. That was about the extent of the ground yielded by Nebraska in the first half, as the Huskers defense responded.
As Colorado started to get its offense going a bit in the second half, the Nebraska defense stood up again, with linebacker Luke Gifford drilling the CU running back on a screen play and Tyrin Ferguson sacking Montez.
Gifford, who finished with 1.5 sacks on the game, said it's tough to lose a game that felt like Nebraska dominated up front.
"This is no moral victory by any means," he said.
"This is a long season, we've got a lot of games left. I felt like we were dominating but we didn't win. As Blackshirts, that's where the change needs to be made."
Gifford said Chinander had the defense ready to play with a simple game plan: get the quarterback. Gifford said the defense didn't panic when Nebraska fell behind 14-0 early.
"We were coming after him and he stood in there and made good throws," Gifford said.
"Coach Chinander is a wizard. He's just smart. We come in every Monday and see those things (game plan) and it lights a fire under you. I think if we were down 14-0 last year we don't do that."
On the first series for Colorado, the Buffaloes capitalized on a Nebraska fumble to put together an 87-yard scoring drive on eight plays including six passes.
On that drive the young Husker secondary was leaving receivers open, including on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Steven Montez to Jay MacIntyre who was left untouched to make it 7-0.
The Nebraska offense coughed up its second fumble of the first quarter when Adrian Martinez was stripped by Mustafa Johnson inside the Nebraska 25.
The Husker defense was put in a hole, compounded by a personal foul penalty that placed the CU ball at the Nebraska 12. On a fourth-and-1 play, Colorado running back Laviska Shenault scored on a run over the right side of the Nebraska defense.
Once the Nebraska defense weathered the storm, Colorado's offense was put on lockdown — sparked by a jarring sack of Steven Montez by NU's Khalil Davis to end a drive early in the second quarter at the Buffalo 11. The play flipped the field position in favor of Nebraska, and was an instant injection of momentum.
Davis, who led Nebraska with two sacks, said the defense was having a good time.
"It is a more aggressive defense," he said.
"It was fun, it was like being back to little league playing. We're a big family."
With 8:59 to play in the first half, Gifford sacked Montez at the Colorado 17 to hold the Buffs to their second three-and-out following the Husker turnovers.
Near the end of the first half CU drove into Nebraska territory, and on a third and eight, sophomore safety Deontai Williams knocked away a pass in the Husker end zone to force a field goal attempt.
Colorado regrouped a bit to start the second half, driving 12 plays and 55 yards, capped off with a 35-yard field goal by James Stefanou to make it 21-20 early in the third quarter.
The Buffaloes broke through near the end of the third quarter, with a 75-yard scoring drive to make it 28-27 Nebraska. Colorado then threatened to take the lead with 10:01 to play in the game, missing a 37-yard field goal.
The wheels came off at the wrong time for Nebraska's defense.
With 2:23 to play in the game Colorado started a drive from its own 23, and in eight plays, sparked by a personal foul penalty, scored the game-winning touchdown on a Montez pass to Laviska Shenault to make it 33-28 with 1:06 left.
On a positive note, Nebraska's defense limited Colorado to just 44 yards rushing. Montez ended the game with 351 yards through the air and three touchdowns.