Michigan State at Nebraska
Now that's the Nebraska we've all been waiting for.
The second half against Ohio State was great, and the Minnesota win was expectedly dominant, but this was a statement game against a horrible matchup. Michigan State has one of the best defensive lines in the country, a smart and active linebacking corps, and an aggressive secondary that should've kept the one-dimensional Husker attack under wraps. Instead, offensive coordinator Tim Beck pitched a perfect game.
There were always holes for Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead to run through, the passing game did enough to cross up the Spartan back seven, and everything worked on march after march. Meanwhile, the defense that came into the game 101st in the nation in sacks spent the game sitting MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins' head.
But this was more than just one coaching staff doing a better job than another; Michigan State looked like a team that spent the last week patting itself on the back after the win over Wisconsin.
Give credit to the Huskers for outplaying and outperforming the Spartans, but this wasn't the same MSU team that played so well last Saturday night. There didn't seem to be the same sort of attitude, there wasn't the same bounce, and there certainly wasn't the same focus and execution. The energy wasn't there from the start, and now the Spartans are in trouble. Last week's win over UW was big, but that was an interdivisional game. This week's loss was in the Legends division, and now it'll take some work to get to the Big Ten title game.
Michigan State went back to being Michigan State with problems on third downs and dumb penalties, but those took a back seat to the lack of execution. Michigan State was always one step faster and one step better than the Spartans, and now the Big Ten title chase really becomes interesting.
By Matt Zemek
In 2010, Kirk Cousins was a steady, consistently reliable quarterback. This year, Michigan State's senior is the Stephen Garcia of the Midwest, minus the unwelcome off-field incidents. It's worth remembering that Michigan State benefited from one of the worst Ohio State offenses in recent memory, plus a Michigan team that is not yet ready to win (but probably will be in two years or so) under Brady Hoke. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez did not play well on Saturday in Lincoln on an afternoon when the craft of quarterbacking was set back several decades, but compared to Cousins, Martinez looked downright competent.
Yes, Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck was marvelously creative in the second half, opening up opportunities for Martinez to play off the running game and hit wide-open receivers for big gains. Yes, Nebraska played one of its best defensive games of the season and showed a level of ruggedness in the trenches that had been conspicuously hard to find over the first eight weeks of the season. Yet, for all the things the Huskers did well, it's still hard to deny the notion that if Michigan State's senior quarterback - the same person who authored an 11-1 regular season in 2010 - had played modestly well, the contours of this contest would have been substantially different. Nebraska fans should rightfully be happy after seeing their team iron out a laundry list of persistent problems. Yet, in the same breath, one shouldn't view this conquest of Sparty as a particularly huge achievement. Michigan State has looked very listless away from home; what you saw on Saturday was a face-plant that should hardly shock the senses.
By Terry Johnson
After dismantling Michigan State 24-3, the Nebraska Cornhuskers sent the rest of the Big Ten a message.
The message - the road to Pasadena still goes through Lincoln.
With a victory over the Spartans, Nebraska vaulted into a four-way tie atop the Legends division. Left for dead after a 48-17 loss to Wisconsin, the Cornhuskers now control their own destiny in their quest to reach the inaugural title game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
If today's defensive performance is any indication, Nebraska will play in Indianapolis on December 3rd. The vaunted Black Shirt defense shut down the Spartans for the entire game, limiting MSU to a season-low 187 yards of total offense. The Huskers harassed QB Kirk Cousins for the full 60 minutes, sacking him 4 times. The pressure also helped force a number of incompletions, allowing Cousins to complete only 11 of 27 passes for a pedestrian 86 yards.
The most impressive aspect of Nebraska's win will not show up in the stat sheet. The Husker defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage all afternoon, resembling the Black Shirt defenses of the national championship teams during the late 90's. With the defensive line winning the battle on first down, Michigan State played behind the sticks in almost every series. As a result, the Spartans only converted 3 of 14 on third downs.
While today's convincing win vaults the Cornhuskers into first place, they still have a lot of work to do to win the Legends division. Of Nebraska's remaining schedule, three of their four opponents either own or share first place in their respective divisions. To make matters worse, the Huskers play their two most difficult games – Michigan and Penn State – on the road, where the Huskers have not traditionally fared well against ranked teams.
Will Nebraska win these games, and advance to the Big Ten Championship?
If the Husker defensive line has anything to say about it, the answer is a resounding yes.
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By Phil Harrison
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Welcome to the Big Ten Nebraksa.
It's as if the Cornhuskers were still walking in the Big Twelve forest the first couple of Big Ten games of its new existence. Nebraska got absolutely white-walled in Madison, and then got their corn popped in the first half against Ohio State--And then something happened.
Nebraska became a Big Ten team. Staggered and groggy from the downhill running and physical play that wasn't exactly a staple of the spread out attacks in the Big Twelve, the team's mindset and style adjusted. Both lines became more physical and began playing more aggressive. The result: The Huskers stormed back and beat Ohio State, then kept it going all the way through the Michigan State game. And maybe beyond.
In a game that many picked MSU to win, Nebraska made a statement that they can be as physical as any team in the Big Ten when they want to. Consider the desire now there. The Spartan defensive line that had been so dominant against Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin had no answer for option of Taylor Martinez and company. Nebraska didn't set the world on fire offensively, but it pushed around a MSU defense that had been a force to reckon with over the last month enough to break through for a few scores. It barely mattered that William Gholston was back in the fold as he did his best Halloween impression of a ghost at the right time of the year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the "black-shirts" put the intimidation back in the game plan. For the first time this year, the Nebraska D showed up against a quality opponent--in a big way. The defensive line (minus Jared Crick) won the battle against Sparty's offensive line, the secondary was lock down good behind them, and the entire unit played fast and physical. It was literally no match for the MSU offense as things got away from the Spartans in the second half.
For Michigan State, the jubilation of last week has quickly turned to green and white despair. Playing with a sense of entitlement, the entire Spartan army looked to be suffering from a hail-mary hangover--but more importantly, they showed the same flakiness that an East Lansing baker continues to be envious of. MSU can look like a supremely talented team against opposition that it shouldn't, only to stub its toe against others routinely. Nebraska isn't Wisconsin, and Notre Dame had no business outflanking the Spartans in September. It's simply a case of Sparty being Sparty.
Maybe the green and white will get over the "elite" team hump this decade, it just won't happen this year--again.