Saturday, November 16, 2013

Husker Freshman Fumble Away the Big Ten's West Division to Michigan State

It only took three plays to establish the storyline of today's game between Nebraska and Michigan State.  Ameer Abdullah rushes for eight yards.  Kenny Bell catches a pass for four yards.  Then Terrell Newby fumbles a pitch from Tommy Armstrong.

Spartans ball.

The Husker defense steps up and holds Michigan State to a field goal.  OK, so Nebraska got that out of their system, right?  Hardly.  Next drive, same thing.  Abdullah runs for 10 yards.  Bell catches an 8 yard pass.  And then Armstrong throws the ball directly to Spartan safety Kurtis Drummond.

Remember that 2009 game between Nebraska and Iowa State?  Five turnovers?  Are you kidding me?  What the heck is going on in Lincoln?

Freshmen.  Jordan Westerkamp muffs a punt.  Armstrong adds two more fumbles.  All those turnovers by freshmen.  And most of them self-inflicted by Nebraska; gifts from the the newest players on the Big Red roster.

Freshman mistakes. Throughout the history of college sports, a common meme is the freshman or rookie mistake. It happens.  And unfortunately, it happened in this game.  Nebraska certainly didn't intend to have to play this many freshman this season.  (Taylor Martinez haters excepted, of course.)  Injuries have forced Nebraska's hand on offense.

And unfortunately, that negated a great performance from the rest of the offense.  If you still waste your Saturday morning watching ESPN GameDay, you probably saw Desmond Howard predicting that Ameer Abdullah would be held in check by Michigan State's invincible defense.  (I didn't watch; I had more important things to mow the yard.)

Michigan State's defense was only giving up 41 yards per game.  Abdullah tripled that by himself.  Heck, backup Imani Cross topped the Spartans defensive average. Prior to this weekend, Michigan State had only allowed 391 yards rushing on the ground.  Nebraska rushed for 182 today alone.  They were only allowing 1.62 yards a rush, nearly a yard per carry less than the next team.

Nebraska averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

If not for the turnovers, Nebraska wins this game.  Probably handily.  The defense played well enough early to win this game.  41 points by Michigan State? How the heck does that happen?  It's easy when the Spartans get the ball on the NU 40 (field goal), 8 (touchdown), 22 (touchdown), and 3 (touchdown) yard line.  24 points off of turnovers.

Husker fans agonize over every loss.  Bad losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State, and UCLA have rightfully raised questions about the defense.  This one was different; the defense isn't the problem at this time. Nebraska's defense seems back on track to playing Blackshirt style defense.

But that nagging turnover problem?  No, benching Taylor Martinez didn't fix that.  Problem is, I don't know this does get fixed, other than work on it. Ameer Abdullah has been better this season holding onto the ball.  Martinez was better at ball security this season as well. I suspect that Armstrong and Westerkamp will be better in the future.

Frustrating as heck.  But what are you going to do?  Press the panic button?  Call for another Steve Pederson?  Haters are going to hate.  The rest of us are only going to wonder what this season might have been like if Martinez had been healthy all season long.  Doesn't change the fact that Nebraska is now 7-3 and out of the Big Ten's west division race, unfortunately.

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