As a player, Mel Tucker competed for Paul Bunyan’s Axe in the Wisconsin vs. Minnesota rivalry.
As a coach, he’s been involved in the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs. Auburn), The Game (Ohio State vs. Michigan) and Clean, Old Fashioned Hate (Georgia vs. Georgia Tech), among other bitter rivalries in college and the NFL.
On Saturday at Folsom Field, Tucker will add a new experience to his list when he takes his Colorado Buffaloes (1-0) up against No. 24 Nebraska (1-0).
Tucker has always been one to maximize the importance of each day and every step leading up to a game, but he’s also been hearing about this game – Nebraska’s first visit to Boulder since Nov. 27, 2009 – since the day he was hired in December.
“I feel the energy and the passion from our fans and our alums and from our players of how big this next game is,” Tucker said on Friday night, not long after the Buffaloes finished off Colorado State, 52-31, in his debut as CU head coach.
Still, Tucker and the Buffs came away from Friday’s game with a business-like approach to this week.
“You can’t get overwhelmed by the moment and the magnitude of a game because they’re all big in their own regard,” Tucker said. “We’ll stick with our process and make sure our guys come out. I expect to see a better football team next week than I saw here tonight.”
Tucker was comparing the CU that performed on Friday to the CU he hopes to see this Saturday, but he also could have been have been talking about the opponent. The 24th-ranked Cornhuskers are sure to be a better test for the Buffaloes than the Rams were.
Despite going 4-8 a year ago, Nebraska has high expectations this year. Some national publications picked the Cornhuskers to win the Big Ten West.
Nebraska’s opener was less than inspiring, especially on offense. In Lincoln, Neb., the Huskers defeated South Alabama, 35-21, needing two defensive touchdowns and a punt return for touchdown in the second half to get the job done.
“That’s as anemic of an offensive effort as I’ve been a part of for a long time,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said in his post-game press conference. “That’s not the offense that I’ve been seeing all fall camp. I’ve been extremely excited with the way the offense has played through fall camp, so hopefully this wasn’t indicative of what we’re going to get, but I think the guys are going to be hungry to come back and practice.”
Highly touted sophomore dual threat quarterback Adrian Martinez completed just 13-of-22 passes for 178 yards and an interception, while finishing with six yards rushing on 13 carries.
The Buffs know how good Martinez can be, however. He made his collegiate debut against the Buffs last year, rushing for 117 yard and two scores and throwing for 187 yards and a touchdown.
The rematch of last year’s 33-28 CU win in Lincoln has been on the minds of both teams – or at least their fans – since then.
“I had last year’s game circled on my schedule and I have this year’s game circled on my schedule,” Nebraska safety Eric Lee, who went to Valor Christian High School, said after Saturday’s game. “I’m just excited to go back out there and take CU down.”
Huskers defensive lineman Darrion Daniels told reporters Saturday, “My coach don’t like them, so I don’t like them. I felt like last year we were the better team. And then if we were the better team last year, I know we’re the better team this year. … I’m just ready to go and kick some (butt), to be honest with you.”
Daniels clearly hasn’t taken long to learn the animosity of the rivalry, as he wasn’t even with the Huskers last year. He’s a graduate transfer from Oklahoma State.
Frost is a Lincoln native who played in two CU-Nebraska games as the Huskers quarterback in 1996 and 1997, so he’s well aware of the feelings between the two teams, but called the Buffs an “ex-rival” after Saturday’s win.
“We’ve got to have a great week because we’re playing a really good team and an ex-rival,” he said.
CU knows it has to have a great week, too. The Buffs were good, but not great, against CSU and they will focus on improving this week.
“You know it’s a big rivalry, but hey, only we can beat ourselves,” receiver KD Nixon said. “So we’re going to go into practice, once again; all week practice hard, physical, fast, toughness, and we’re going to give our best, every practice. That’s what we really focus on; we’re not worried about any of our opponents.”
CU opponent glance
Opponent: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Game time: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MT, at Folsom Field in Boulder
Coach: Scott Frost, 2nd season (5-8; 24-15 career)
Last week: Defeated South Alabama, 35-21, at home on Saturday
Notable: Nebraska will be making its first trip to Boulder since Nov. 27, 2009. The Huskers are 3-1 in their last four trips to Boulder. … Dating back to 2017, the Cornhuskers have lost seven consecutive road games, but four of those came against teams ranked in the top 20. … Nebraska was out-gained, 314-276, by South Alabama. The Huskers had just 98 rushing yards on 44 carries. The defense, however, forced four turnovers, returning two of them for touchdowns. … Running back Dedrick Mills had 44 yards and two TDs on the ground vs. South Alabama. … Nebraska has seven players from Colorado high schools on its roster, including walk-on safety Eli Sullivan from Longmont High School. Sullivan, a junior, has been mainly a special teams contributor in his career, but came off the bench Saturday to record four tackles. … Saturday marked just the third time in 12 career games that Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez didn’t either throw or run for a touchdown. Last year, he threw 17 TD passes and ran for eight scores.