Author's note: I'mma just leave this here. Sorry, it was a busy week. If you want to read about, or discuss, this game, particularly in the context of another road test coming up, here you go. If you don't care (and a week is an eon in Internet Time) that's cool too.
If you need help with terms or definitions, try these two links first:
If you still need clarification, ask in the comments.
New Math gets grumpy this edition. Nice things are said about the Nebraska defense. Not so nice things are said about either team's offense, or really the MSU defense. Losing by three touchdowns will do that.
|Neb 24, MSU 3
|Enemy Territory %
|Close Success Rate
|Close Success Rate
|Points off turnovers
|Close Success Rate
|1st Down S&P
|2nd Down S&P
|3rd Down S&P
|Yards Per Point
|Yards Per Play
|9 for 90
|9 for 58
GIF, please say more in one 8 second loop than I can in millions of words:
Pictured: (foreground) MSU offense, (background) Nebraska fans
Kill it with fire: The 2011 MSU road offense
Awful. My company line with the offense this year has generally been, "Look, they're not good, but they're not as bad as everyone thinks either." After YSU, ND, and OSU, I was generally content with the offensive performances. Criticisms (primarily, of Roushar and Cousins), I thought were far too harsh among some circles of the fan base.
Uh, none of that was true this game.
This was exactly as bad as it looked, and two guys I've been going to bat for, Cousins and Roushar, will get little protection from me for their performance this game.
I'd call Kirk Cousins' game 'a nothingburger', but burger implies there was something tasty about it, and nothing implies that it was a neutral performance and not something that actively hurt us.
The worst performance of his career. Worse than OSU this year. Worse than Iowa, Minnesota, or Alabama, in 2010. Worse than Penn State or Wisconsin in 2009. Way worse.
This was the first start in his career where his yards per attempt fell under 5 yards, much less plummeted past four, to an atrocious 3.2. It was the first start where he failed to throw for at least 100 yards. It was only his 4th game without completing at least 50% of his throws (and at 40.7%, he flirted with falling under 40% for the first time). It was his fourth career game without throwing at least a single TD pass.
Take your pick of bad stats folks, he did a lot of things he does very rarely, and he did them all in the same game. As a result, we ended up with a worthless passing attack.
The very first drive of the game he gets picked off on our half of the field, and the return goes back to basically our own red zone, A. murdering what was a promising first drive and B. nearly guaranteeing Nebraska would score at least a field goal. Then, throughout the rest of the game, he throws some inexplicable passes into double or triple coverage, and takes a couple of brutal sacks.
The bright side is that the reason all those things listed above have happened so rarely, is that Cousins is a very good quarterback. The dark side is, well, 2011 Nebraska.
Scheme (i.e. Roushar)
Somewhere during or after 2008, when we gave Javon Ringer threve billion carries, this meme popped up that Dantonio plays Wisconsin 'pound the football' style offense. But at least under Cousins, that hasn't been true. We've run, yes, but we've always been fairly balanced and always run to set up the really devastating part of our offense which is the play action and deep stuff in the passing game.
That's been especially true under Dan Roushar who clearly figured out early in the year what his offense couldn't do (pound the football inside the tackles) and smartly decided to do other things (run to the outside, involve the short passing game, including the running backs, and the tight ends, and back off safeties with the threat to go deep). And these adjustments worked because opposing defensive coordinators generally reacted like adaptable human beings, who would change things as Roushar changed things.
The Pelini's, who are smart, defensive minded guys, did not do this. With the help of a bye and Minnesota leading up to our game, they clearly sat down and figured out our tendencies, implemented a fairly simple scheme that took away most of what we normally do well, and allowed us to succeed at what we don't normally do well.
Roushar handled this curve ball badly, as one might expect out of a man entering his second year as a BCS level coordinator. I think Dan was pretty sure that if Bell ran up the middle successfully a 2-4 times in a row that on the third play, eventually, Nebraska was going to bring a safety or another linebacker into the box. He was trying to set up intricate combinations, that had worked all season, against a couple of guys who were mashing the X button the entire fight.
The problem isn't that Roushar was too stubborn and wasn't making adjustments, it was that he wasn't stubborn enough and assumed his opponents weren't stubborn either. He was wrong. Most coaches don't do the 'Norm Parker at Iowa' thing and run the same defensive look the entire game, but when they do, our coaches have to recognize it faster than they did in this game (and to their credit, they did, but unfortunately not until the 2nd half, by which time the game quickly went out of reach and forced State to pass).
Against, oh, Iowa, Roushar better know that some coaches are willing to let a million fast balls go by them and wait for you to throw a change up they can knock out of the park. Sometimes you gotta keep throwing the heater.
He responded after a bad ND performance with what I would categorize as four straight 'good to great' games of play calling. Hopefully he can rebound again.
Our wide receivers did not handle the physicality of Nebraska's secondary well at all. The amount of times you'd watch a Spartan wide out or tight end get bumped off of their route was painful. The Cornhuskers could do this, because, with two high safeties and a distinct lack of speed at MSU's wide out positions, we couldn't burn them for it. Cunningham got blanketed by a very good corner back with safety help, and inside routes got redirected outside by line backers and nickel backs.
Now Nebraska putting 5-7 players in coverage every play wouldn't be a big deal, except MSU's offensive line couldn't block the four pass rushers sent at them. Some of this was inexperienced offensive lineman getting killed by stunts and DL movement, other bits were a lack of ability to handle a 'chaos' look (where Nebraska stood their front four up and had them mill around). The inability to handle the stand up defensive linemen stuff is especially painful as that is a not infrequent part of our own defenses third down packages (i.e.. we should have seen it before). So when they showed they couldn't handle the four man rush with five players (or that Cousins couldn't make the right play when given time), MSU put more players in to protect the QB. This lead to less players running routes against 5-7 Nebraska players in coverage, meaning everyone was almost always covered down field, meaning DOOM.
Rex "Moxie Rexie" Burkhead and other thoughts on the MSU defense
This was a very, very, strong defensive performance that looks so, so much worse mostly because this defense has a penchant for committing the stupidest penalties at the stupidest times (Oh, hey, 2009, nice to see your awful tendencies raising their heads again).
Rex Burkhead ran for the grittiest 130 grit yards in the history of football. The way he toughed out a workman like 3.7 yards a carry and put on his hard hat to the tune of 3 touchdowns (more like tough downs, right?) was truly inspiring to watch.
And how about that electrifying Taylor Martinez and his speed and hand-off fakes that earned him an explosive 1.9 yards a carry? What a terrifying 1-2 combo.
Haha, sarcasm is fun, huh guys? What an immensely irritating performance for an MSU fan. If you need 4 yards Rex Burkhead will get you four yards. If you need 7 yards Rex Burkhead will get you 4 yards. His chief talent as a running back seemed to be not going down at first contact, which was good for Nebraska, because nearly every carry he'd get hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, and then twist and spin forward for a short gain. I cannot believe we let this run game pound the ball 58 times and set up like, the two big plays (a 39 yard end around to some player named Tim Marlowe [who, when he isn't busy telling tales of his time in the Belgian Congo, is apparently a real live college football player, though you'd hardly know it if you looked at his career stats] that set up a first half field goal, and a wounded duck wheel route to a cramping Burkhead, that busted our coverage as badly as any play has busted our coverage this year) that helped nail this game shut.
|Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez carries vs. MSU
|0 yards or under
How did we play very good defense and yet still give up 24 points to that decidedly Milquetoast offense?
1. Nebraska started one drive on our 25 yard line (why thank you Kirk Cousins) that they took seven plays to punch in for a TD, and started another drive on our 40 yard line that took six plays to turn into a field goal.
2. Here's the two drives that broke our back in the third quarter, presented in their entirety:
1st and 10 at NEB 20Rex Burkhead rush for 3 yards to the Neb 23.310
2nd and 7 at NEB 23Rex Burkhead rush for 2 yards to the Neb 25.
3rd and 5 at NEB 25Taylor Martinez pass complete to Tim Marlowe for 6 yards to the Neb 31 for a 1ST down.
1st and 10 at NEB 31Taylor Martinez rush for a loss of 2 yards to the Neb 44, MICHIGAN ST penalty 15 yard Personal Foul accepted for a 1ST down.
1st and 10 at NEB 44Rex Burkhead rush for 3 yards to the Neb 47.
2nd and 7 at NEB 47Taylor Martinez pass complete to Brandon Kinnie for 11 yards to the MchSt 42 for a 1ST down.
1st and 10 at MSU 42Taylor Martinez pass complete to Ben Cotton for 5 yards to the MchSt 37.
2nd and 5 at MSU 37NEBRASKA penalty 5 yard False Start accepted.
2nd and 10 at MSU 42Taylor Martinez rush for no gain to the MchSt 42.
3rd and 10 at MSU 42Rex Burkhead rush for 13 yards to the MchSt 29 for a 1ST down.
1st and 10 at MSU 29Taylor Martinez rush for 4 yards to the MchSt 25.
2nd and 6 at MSU 25Kenny Bell rush for 4 yards to the MchSt 21.
3rd and 2 at MSU 21Taylor Martinez pass complete to Brandon Kinnie for 12 yards to the MchSt 9 for a 1ST down.
1st and Goal at MSU 9Rex Burkhead rush for 8 yards to the MchSt 1.
2nd and Goal at MSU 1Rex Burkhead rush for 1 yard for a TOUCHDOWN.317
Allowing three third down conversions on a single drive is bad. Committing a stupid personal foul penalty to move the offense to midfield is worse. Giving up 13 yards on a third down "We give up, we don't want Martinez to throw a pick, so we just want to run this speed option for a handful of yards and kick a field goal' play is intensely frustrating. It gets worse.
1st and 10 at NEB 11Rex Burkhead rush for 4 yards to the Neb 15.317
2nd and 6 at NEB 15Rex Burkhead rush for 5 yards to the Neb 20.
3rd and 1 at NEB 20Rex Burkhead rush for 2 yards to the Neb 22 for a 1ST down.
1st and 10 at NEB 22Rex Burkhead rush for 1 yard to the Neb 23.
2nd and 9 at NEB 23Rex Burkhead rush for 6 yards to the Neb 29.
3rd and 3 at NEB 29MICHIGAN ST penalty 5 yard Offside accepted.
1st and 10 at NEB 34Rex Burkhead rush for 5 yards to the Neb 39.
2nd and 5 at NEB 39MICHIGAN ST penalty 15 yard Pass Interference accepted, no play.
1st and 10 at MSU 46NEBRASKA penalty 5 yard False Start accepted.
1st and 15 at NEB 49Rex Burkhead rush for 6 yards to the MchSt 45.
2nd and 9 at MSU 45Taylor Martinez rush for 9 yards to the MchSt 46, NEBRASKA penalty 10 yard Holding accepted.
2nd and 10 at MSU 46NEBRASKA penalty 5 yard False Start accepted.
2nd and 15 at NEB 49Rex Burkhead rush for 4 yards to the MchSt 47.
3rd and 11 at MSU 47Taylor Martinez pass complete to Kenny Bell for 20 yards to the MchSt 27 for a 1ST down.
1st and 10 at MSU 27Taylor Martinez pass incomplete.
2nd and 10 at MSU 27Taylor Martinez pass complete to Rex Burkhead for 27 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.323
Two free 1st downs off penalties and another toothless 3rd down defense on a "we surrender." 3rd and 11 tunnel screen (which is a play that basically never, ever, works, but here goes for 20 yards). Eff.
All this is especially frustrating because the defense otherwise played a really strong game overall. You're not really supposed to give up 24 offensive points when you hold a team under 300 yards and under 4 yards per play. Unfortunately, if your offense and special teams screw you on field position, you hand out penalty first downs like they're candy, and you get beat for 2-3 20+ yard plays, all of a sudden, there appear 24 points
Fortunately for Nebraska, while their offense was average at best, our offensive performance was so putrid as to make it not matter.
With that said
Some fans are still going too far. I'm getting a little sick of hearing people call for Roushar's head on a spike (more on this later in the week), or making comments to the effect that, "Boy it'll be nice when Maxwell comes in next year, he won't take those awful sacks or throw those killer interceptions like Cousins."
A. Roushar has, overall, been fine against the toughest portion of our schedule. He's done some things I've liked, and other things I haven't liked. He's shown the ability to adapt from game to game as the season has gone along. He clearly still has some things to learn, but he's done well to deal with the problems that come with a good amount of injury attrition, particularly on the offensive line. You should see our offensive numbers improve as we hit the easier portion of out schedule in November. Can we at least give the guy a full season before we chop his head off?
B. Criticism of Cousins for having a very bad game is valid. But the fan reaction after this game was overblown. Anyone who thinks Maxwell is going to be an obvious upgrade next year is almost certainly wrong. These bad road games are extremely frustrating, but probably only because Cousins normally plays so well. I think lots of fans are starting to get Raymar Morgan syndrome with the kid (i.e. people won't fully appreciate him until he's gone).
Anyone else more a little tired of this team leaving Spartan Stadium for big road clashes and getting killed by multiple touchdowns? I don't even as much mind the losses (though I do mind the losses), as how problems seem to snowball during these games. I know winning on the road is tough, but is it too much to ask for us to be competitive in the 4th quarter? Please?
We've got one (maybe two, but really, no one will give us much credit for beating Northwestern at Northwestern, nor really should they) more chance to turn this stigma around this year at Iowa. I'm not even asking for a win. Just at least be competitive. Have at least a shot to win at the end, and maybe you will.