BOULDER, Colo. — Though his team was down 17-0 at halftime Saturday, Mel Tucker wasn’t worried about how Colorado would bounce back in the second half.
The first-year coach was convinced Nebraska took its best shot in the first 30 minutes, with close to half of the crowd on the Huskers’ side.
That’s what Tucker told his team after the Buffaloes scored 31 points in the second half — 24 in the fourth quarter — en route to a 34-31 victory over No. 25 Nebraska.
“My message to the team was that they gave their best shot and we haven’t even scratched the surface on what we can do on either side of the ball,” Tucker said. “We had an opportunity in the second half to come out and put our best foot forward, and we did that.”
When he arrived in Boulder last December after spending three seasons as Georgia’s defensive coordinator to replace Mike MacIntyre, Tucker placed significant emphasis on turning the Buffaloes into one of the best-conditioned teams in the country.
And Tucker and some of the players said the fruits of the strenuous summer conditioning work and time in the weight room are starting to pay off on the field.
“They just never stopped,” Tucker said. “We really pride ourselves on our conditioning. We were fast in practice yesterday. Our guys looked quick. I knew that we were in great shape.
“I knew that Nebraska would have to come here in our place at altitude and have to play 60 minutes. We were ready for that.”
That they defeated Nebraska at its own game — the Huskers have long prided themselves on being national leaders in strength and conditioning — made the come-from-behind victory that much sweeter.
Wide receiver K.D. Nixon, the speedster from DeSoto, Texas, who caught the 96-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass from Steven Montez 38 seconds into the fourth quarter, was happy to explain.
“Let me tell you all the truth,” Nixon said. “We won this back in summer workouts. We had the hardest summer workout I’ve had in my life. So credit to the strength staff, credit to Coach Tucker for telling them to do that, but also it’s a big win.”
Montez said he was a bit surprised when the flea-flicker play came down from the press box with the Buffs on their own 4-yard line. It turned into the longest play in school history.
Montez said halftime came at the right time for the Buffs, giving everyone a chance to take a deep breath and get refocused.
“We just got it together,” Montez said. “We calmed down and just started to play the football we’re accustomed to playing. We didn’t try to play outside ourselves, we just took the coaching that we were given on the sideline and at halftime we adjusted and good things happened for us.”
Many of the players after the game discounted the effects Nebraska’s large contingent of fans had on the atmosphere. Montez said he respected how Husker fans represented their team, but he said he was “almost positive” that the Colorado fans were louder than the Nebraska fans. But he and his teammates also noticed how the Huskers players were chirping in the days leading up to the game.
“You guys saw all those crazy quotes they were putting out earlier in the week,” Montez said. “To be honest, I think they talked themselves right out of the game. I think they came in too amped up.
“Before the coin toss they were talking trash, they were at the bottoms of the piles talking trash. They were spitting, they were doing dirty stuff.”
Tucker also said he noticed the sea of red that ringed Folsom Field — an estimated 25,000 Husker fans were in the crowd of 52,829 — but said it didn’t bother him or his staff much.
“There was a lot of red and there’s a lot of people disappointed, you know,” Tucker said.