BOULDER — A Deion Sanders team just gave up eight sacks and 11 tackles for losses. A Deion Sanders team drew nine penalties for 80 yards.
That same Deion Sanders team just won by 22 points. Against Nebraska.
Which, the way Coach Prime sees it, must mean that this Deion Sanders team is pretty … darn … good.
“A win is a win,” Sanders said after his 22nd-ranked Buffs stomped the hated Huskers, 36-14. “To just think that we played like we played and we won by that margin, that’s a pretty good feeling for any coach. And I think (it’s great) for you all to see what we’re capable of doing.”
If Saturday was any indication, CU might be just scratching the surface.
The Buffs started painfully slow, struggled to run the ball, shot themselves in several metaphorical feet, managed three touchdowns in six red-zone trips and were stuffed on their only official fourth-down try of the afternoon.
And yet for the final 33 minutes of the 72nd meeting between the Buffs and Nebraska, they were never really threatened. Not once.
Shedeur Sanders’ 30-yard touchdown pass to Tar’Varish Dawson with 2:35 to go until halftime gave the hosts a 9-0 cushion.
It might as have well been 19-0.
In a matchup of two first-year coaches — Sanders at Colorado, Matt Rhule at Nebraska — doing almost complete roster rebuilds, well, let’s put it this way: The Huskers (0-2), who are still working out the kinks, look the way a rebuilding Power 5 program often looks when the cupboard and culture hit the refresh button.
The Buffs? The Buffs (2-0) almost look like the finished article. Even though the stats, and the eye tests, tell you — and Sanders — that they’re still anything but.
“We’ve got higher standards,” noted CU wideout Xavier Weaver, who notched a game-high 10 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown.
As with last weekend’s win at then-No. 17 TCU, there will be qualifiers about the opposition. Nebraska is still more the Nebraska of Mike Riley than the bullies of Tom Osborne and Frank Solich.
Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Jordan Domineck (44) recovers a fumble by Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Gabe Ervin Jr. (22) in the second quarter at Folsom Field September 09, 2023. Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Jeff Sims (7) tries to tackle Domineck on the play. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Offensively, the contrasts between the two programs were most stark at quarterback, where Huskers signal-caller Jeff Sims turned the ball over three times — twice on fumbles — before leaving the blowout with an injury. CU’s QB1, the younger Sanders, weathered some iffy protection (seven sacks) and some holding-onto-the-ball-too-long moments but still racked up 393 passing yards and three scores, two through the air.
“I really think we’re better than we’re showing,” Rhule told reporters after the game. “But what does that mean?”
Unfortunately for Rhule, the Big Red aren’t. Not with Sims, who committed six turnovers over his first six quarters as a Husker, behind center, at any rate.
But that’s a Big Red problem, one the scoreboard at Folsom Field just compounded.
With Gus Johnson on the call and luminaries such as Shannon Sharpe and Stephen A. Smith and members of iconic hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan in attendance, Saturday marked the Buffs’ largest margin of victory in the CU-Nebraska rivalry since the old, beloved mark of 26 points set in 2001. CU hammered the Huskers 62-36 some 22 years ago in one of the iconic victories in modern Buffs football history.
It also marked the first time CU had surrendered fewer than 15 points to the Huskers at Folsom Field since 1986 (a 20-10 Buffs win). In its last 10 visits to Boulder, dating back to 1993, Nebraska had averaged a whopping 33.2 points per game.
“(Sanders) pretty much just told us that (this series is) personal,” said defensive end Taijh Alston, who notched 1.5 of the Buffs’ two sacks on the day in helping CU notch a three-game win streak over the Big Red for the first time since 1956-58.
“You wouldn’t want anyone coming in your house and doing whatever in your house … so it’s personal for us. I feel like we approached it that way every day in practice, and the results showed it.”
Which they did. Eventually. Even Ralphie seemed less enthused — and noticeably sluggish — when she came out for second run given a first half that featured seven combined punts, four by the Buffs, and a 13-0 CU lead following a scoreless, humdrum first quarter.
“We weren’t as disciplined as we normally are early in the game,” said the elder Sanders, who’ll bounce from one rivalry game to another, with CSU and the Rocky Mountain Showdown, up next. “But we played a smart game. And we’ve just got to start quicker … we’ve got to come out and ‘Let’s go.’
“But this team hasn’t scratched the surface of what it’s capable of doing. We’ve still got some players that are really good players but they hadn’t thrust themselves into that spotlight yet because of a lack of consistency. But they’re going to get it. I truly believe in that.”