Thursday, October 02, 2014

Does a Nebraska Win Mean the Huskers are Relevant Nationally? Or that Michigan State is Overrated?

A lot of people didn't think Nebraska would be 5-0 at this point in the season. I don't know if it's "most" or "some", but a sizable group of people had penciled in losses for the Huskers to either Miami or Fresno State. Not sure exactly why; I wasn't one of those people.  Frankly, I don't think there is a team on Nebraska's schedule they can't beat this season.

Including Michigan State.

No doubt in my mind that the Spartans are the best team Nebraska will face before the end of the regular season.  But I also harken back to last November, where five turnovers by freshmen - most, if not all, unforced by the vaunted Spartan defense -were the difference in the game. Nebraska outplayed Michigan State on offense and on defense.  Did Nebraska give the game away?  Bo Pelini won't say so, but when you go -5 on turnovers, you are going to lose. And lose badly on the scoreboard.  Certainly more than 13 points, if the two teams are otherwise even.
Now, Michigan State has been quite impressive offensively. But I have to take those numbers with a grain of salt; when you compare the opponents for both teams, I don't think Michigan State has defeated a team anywhere near as good as Miami.

Or McNeese State, for that matter.

There are elements of Oregon's offense in what Nebraska does, and that clearly gave the Spartans fits in Eugene last month.  But while Nebraska runs the ball MUCH better than Oregon, Marcus Mariota is in a completely different universe than Tommy Armstrong. Michigan State's defense isn't nearly as stout as they were last season, and Nebraska was able to run the ball effectively last year with a banged-up offensive line.

It's less of a question to me whether Nebraska can score on Michigan State than it is whether the Huskers can stop the Spartans on offense.  There are three players Nebraska must concentrate on:

Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford, and Tony Lippett.

Nebraska's defensive line has been pretty good this season, and the setup is perfect for Randy Gregory to have his Ndamukong Suh/Missouri moment.  We've got national television and rainy weather in the forecast. And if you've seen Gregory in action the last two weeks, you know just how dominant he can be.  (Check out some of the photos that CornNation's David McGee took of Gregory being mugged and held by Illinois last week.)

But can Cook get the ball out to Lippett before Gregory sends him to the turf? That's the question, and it'll be incumbent on Josh Mitchell to lock up Lippett to give Gregory time to pressure Cook. Safety help will be important, because I'm less concerned about the other receivers as I am about Lippett making a play.  Cook will force the ball to Lippett, and you want Mitchell to have the freedom to go for the interception.

Last season, Nebraska had problems throwing the ball in the direction of Darqueze Dennard, so Kenny Bell dropped into the slot and ate Kurtis Drummond's lunch the rest of the way.  Dennard is gone, but Drummond is back.  That's another matchup that Nebraska can exploit.

Nobody expects Nebraska to win, except possibly Husker fans. That's fine.  If Nebraska does come away with the win, what does that say?  Husker fans want to view it as win that allows Nebraska to be relevant in the national conversation.  My fear is that some national writers will view it as another failure by the Big Ten.  They are already convinced Nebraska isn't great, so clearly Michigan State was overrated, since they lost to Nebraska.

But it's premature to talk about that much. Doesn't matter what is being said or going to be all comes down to the Huskers winning on Saturday night.


devnet said...

I like the analysis done by Hail Varsity here takes away the FCS padding stats games and shows what MSU's offense and defense are really like:

Husker Mike said...

Brandon posted that as I was posting this. Eye popping statistics, I must say.