The season was on the line, and Nebraska rose up and responded to the challenge. Were they aided by Michigan State’s recent gauntlet of games? Perhaps it was a factor, but there was never any doubt who the better team on the field was today.
First Down: Throw the bones – If the Blackshirts aren’t awarded this next week, they probably won’t be awarded at all this season.* What a great game from the defense, especially when considering the opponent. The Blackshirts manhandled Michigan State, a team that was supposed to be one of the toughest in the nation. They racked up four sacks and harassed Kirk Cousins all game. The secondary had their best game of the season, and shut down the Spartans’ passing game. Alfonzo Dennard was a beast. Another improvement on defense? The Spartans were only 3 of 14 on third down conversions. If the Blackshirts are rounding into form, it provides hope for the rest of the season.
*While writing this, the news came out that Blackshirts would be awarded.
Second Down: Coaches did a great job with the game plan – Coach Pelini and the defensive coaches have been saying for awhile that the defense will come around. Well, it did today. While the players make plays, the defensive game plan that was drawn up helped shut down Michigan State on offense. Analyst Chris Spielman showed what Nebraska was doing on defense, and yet Michigan State could do nothing about it. On the other side of the ball, Tim Beck called a solid game as well by going right at the Spartans’ defense. It helps when you have Rex Burkhead, but credit Beck for staying with what was working. Plus, he kept Michigan State on their heels in the third quarter, when Nebraska took a commanding 24-3 lead. The vaunted Michigan State rush defense was dominated by Burkhead and the Huskers’ offensive line.
Third Down: Taylor Martinez, game manager – As the season has progressed, you’ve seen Beck become less reliant on Taylor Martinez. The results bode well for the team. Other than the interception, I thought Martinez played a good game. While every analyst likes to take their turn analyzing Martinez’s throwing motion, they miss the fact that he outplays the other team’s QB. (Perhaps Martinez needs to give a nice speech to the Big Ten media so it’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, with journalists, when he plays.) On two occasions, when Michigan State jumped offside, Taylor smartly went deep with a pass and drew two defensive pass interference penalties. In the third quarter, he led the team down the field on two touchdown drives. His touchdown pass to Burkhead sealed the victory.
Fourth Down: Oh yeah, there’s this RB named Rex Burkhead – What a performance by Rex Burkhead. He is not as flashy as other running backs, but it is effective. It seems on a number of carries he breaks tackles and gets extra yards that should not be there. Leading up to the game there were a number of stories about the toughness of the Michigan State defense, but Burkhead owned them. Three touchdowns, and over 50% of the Huskers’ offense. As Rex goes, so goes the Huskers. The legend grows.
Looking Ahead: Husker football is alive and well. They should win next week against Northwestern, but then consecutive road trips to two of the most storied programs in college football. I’m still a bit concerned by what a mobile QB (Michigan’s Denard Robinson) can do against the Blackshirts, but the performance today on defense is encouraging. The Huskers are healthy, the coaches are putting their players in a position to succeed, every aspect of the team is playing well…it looks promising for the rest of the season. Can they go 4-0? They can, but they need to play like they did today in every game if they want a rematch with Wisconsin.