Welcome to the new normal.
MSU went into Lincoln and came away with a 41-28 win, the school's first-ever win over Nebraska. The win moved MSU to 9-1 and 6-0 in the Big Ten.
MSU has now won at least nine games in three of the last four years and four of the last six. They had done that eight times previously in school history. The Spartans are 12-3 in Big Ten road games since the 2010 season. It's the first time MSU is 6-0 in the Big Ten since 1966.
The win over Michigan was a final stamp on the player development of the program, and the win in Lincoln was one more stamp on exactly what kind of program Mark Dantonio has built. One that has won in every Big Ten stadium. One that has a dominant defense, but can also win in other ways.
MSU has clinched a share of the Legends division. One more win by MSU or one loss by Minnesota will clinch a second trip to Indianapolis in three years.
Looking back at my keys to the game.
Stop the option run - Nebraska appears to have the keys to moving the ball on MSU's defense. Ameer Abdullah finished with 123 yards on 22 carries. Imani Cross had 50 yards on three carries, but 51 on one run. Tommy Armstrong Jr. had nine yards on five carries. The option itself wasn't very effective.
Run the ball - Jeremy Langford has become one heck of a running back. He finished with 151 yards on 32 carries (4.7). It's his fifth straight 100-yard game. Not much of anything else in the running game.
Convert third downs - MSU went 11-for-21, the third straight week of converting more than 50 percent. Connor Cook was 1-for-7 on third down in the first and third quarters, but 7-for-8 in the second and fourth quarter. A 27-yard strike to Keith Mumphrey on 3rd-and-13 put MSU up two scores in the fourth.
Turnovers - Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm no. Nebraska had five turnovers. All came on its side of the field, three were inside the 25-yard line and two inside the 10. MSU turned that into 24 points. That was the difference in the game.
Get to the second level - Abdullah consistently got to the linebackers, be he didn't often get to the safeties. Cross' long TD run was one big play in the running game.
Put MSU in long down-and-distance - This typically was the difference between a good MSU drive and a bad MSU drive. There was one point where MSU had 1st-and-35. They also separately converted a 3rd-and-19, so MSU made some plays, but when there were short third downs, they usually got them.
Looking at all three sides of the ball:
Not a great performance overall, but it was great when it needed to be.
From SpartanDan's reactions post:
4) We wondered whether we'd get Good Connor Cook or Bad Connor Cook. We got both.
Cook's passing stats, split by quarter:
1st and 3rd quarters: 5/17, 49 yards, 1/7 on third down (did get the first down on that one)
2nd and 4th quarters: 10/14, 144 yards, 1 TD, 7/8 on third down for the TD and five more first downs (the one completion short of the first down set up the fake FG)
In the even quarters, when the down marker hit "3", Cook was lights out, putting passes in very tight windows and keeping the chains moving. The rest of the game was not so good.
In the end, the numbers finished 15-for-31, 193 yards (6.2 YPA), 1 TD, 0 Int. Like the numbers say, he was either really good or really bad.
Langford's numbers are above, He was consistently picking up big chunks, and he's one of the better backs in the Big Ten. He's about to hit 1,000 yards on the season. Remember, there wasn't just a QB battle at the beginning of the year, but a RB battle, too.
A lot of praise should go to the wide receivers, who made a number of really, really tough catches. Tony Lippett (4, 67), Macgarrett Kings (3, 37) and Bennie Fowler (2, 29) all made some great grabs. The 2012 season, and even the WMU and USF games are distant memories.
I would have to say this was the offensive line's worst performance of the year, though that bar is pretty high. Cook was sacked twice and hurried eight times. The Huskers had four TFLs, which is actually more than three below their season average. Langford looked like Bell, making something out of nothing a number of times.
There was a drive where MSU went across: Clark, Jackson, Allen, France, Fonoti/Conklin. It did not work well. Still, it remains the best line of the Dantonio era.
The God-Kings bled.
MSU gave up season-highs in total yards (392) and rushing yards (182). But still, those were below Nebraska's season averages, even if the yards per play was a bit higher.
It counts, but, of those 392 yards, 121 came on three long touchdowns (as MSU is prone to give up) and 75 came on a garbage time drive. Again, it counts, but it's not like Nebraska was moving up and down the field with ease.
What was most concerning was the defensive line consistently getting pushed around by a patchwork Nebraska offensive line. It's also clear Abdullah is the best running back in the Big Ten. Armstrong (9-for-21, 143 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) hit a couple #wheelroute for TD, but didn't so much of anything else.
Of course, we have to mention the turnovers. Yeah, it was the difference in the game. Some of the turnovers were forced (Armstrong fumble, punt return fumble), some were not. Yeah, MSU was lucky. But that's the way things go sometimes. Credit the offense for turning it into points.
No problem with the late Nebraska touchdown. Play to the end. MSU had its defensive starters in there and called a timeout. Abdullah deserved to get into the end zone.
Part of the reason this defense performance is viewed unfavorably is because of the ridiculously high standard. If MSU's defense was top-15 instead of arguably No. 1, it wouldn't be looked at so poorly. But the biggest takeaway is that MSU can win with a C performance from the defense. Got the win and inspired the defense to get better.
We're running out of names for trick plays. This fake field goal was called "Charlie Brown," and boy, did it barely work. Running with your punter right up the middle? (Though it was designed to go outside, I believe). The craziest part was seeing Dantonio make the call live, holding up three fingers and brushing like he was really upset MSU had to kick. As it turns out, I think the hesitation from the special teams unit was to make sure Dantonio was calling what he was calling.
Elsewhere, special teams was another big difference in the game. Michael Geiger was 2-for-2 on field goals of 45 and 25 yards, and he also had a key block on the fake.
Sadler's Heisman campaign was boosted by the fake and his leg, pinning four of seven punts inside the 20-yard line.
I guess the chrome helmets are good again. I know a lot of people didn't want to wear them after losing to Michigan (see: Dion Sims). They look so much better at night than when the sun is out. I'd still like to see them with green uniforms, like we saw in that Nike video.
So a trip to Indy is all but wrapped up. Minnesota still has a small chance. There's still plenty to play for, like an undefeated conference record and an at-large BCS berth if they lose in Indy.
Fun fact: MSU is averaging 30.9 points per game this year. In 2010, it was 29.5. In 2011, it was 31.0. Now, the yards-per-play is a bit lower, but this offense continues to be very opportunistic and makes the big plays at big times.
Last season, seven of MSU's eight Big Ten games were decided by four points or fewer. This season, all six are wins by at least 12 points. MSU is averaging 32.3 points in Big Ten play and has scored more than 40 points three times.
MSU has a top-15 football team and likely the No. 1 men's basketball team. Enjoy it.
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