In the second part of our MSU vs. Nebraska preview, the Corn Nation writers discuss defensive Cornhuskers to watch out for besides Randy Gregory, what happened against McNeese State, and give their keys to the game. Part one of the preview is here, and if you want to find my answers to their questions, those are here.
3. Randy Gregory is a beast, we all know that. But who else should Michigan State watch out for on defense?
Cobby: You didn't give me much to work with on this question. Fine, I'll try to answer a football question. Two names? Did you catch those "uniforms" Nebraska had on last weekend? All you could see was red and shiny. I'm not certain if there were any numbers or names on the jersey's. Heck, LifeLock could have placed players SSN's on those shirts and no one would have been able to read what they were. On the "bright" side, they could have robbed a bank and no one would have been able to pick them out of a line up.
Andy: I'd say Maliek Collins & Nate Gerry are two names you might know better come Sunday morning.
Aaron: Nebraska is apparently building defensive packages without any Linebackers. Yes, you read that right. Randy Gregory backs up off the line into a pseudo-linebacker position and we get to see something potentially exciting. I think Nebraska fans are still learning who's who on defense this year. I'd like to add a couple names to Andy's list, though. Josh Mitchell and Vincent Valentine.
Ty: McMullen has proven to be more than adequate on the other side, as well. Davie has shown up big more than once, as well.
Cheeseandcorn: The rest of the line has its moments, especially when the offensive line is preoccupied with Gregory. Maliek Collins is probably the best bet to have a couple of big plays, but Valentine and McMullen have shown some potential as well.
Ranchbabe: Big Vince Valentine is the "Pot Roast" of this defense (sorry to bring a Denver Bronco joke into a Husker/Spartan Q&A). He occupies a lot of space in the middle and makes an offense take the long way around. Nate Gerry is also a bright spot. He has blazing speed, which is a good trait in your center fielder (in high school he ran 100 meter times that would have put him in the mix for All-American status at the NCAA championships). Linebackers? Nothing to see here, moving on.
4. At this point, the McNeese State game appears to be an aberration. What did Nebraska do well in their other games that they didn't do against McNeese?
Andy: I'm sorry, except for Abdullah's catch and run at the end, I've put that out of my mind. Next question.
Cobby: Gather ‘round boys and girls. I've got a story for you. See, I was in East Lansing a couple of years ago for a game. You remember the one? It was the one where the refs made all those crappy calls against both Nebraska and Sparty but most Michigan State fans only remember the one near the end that resulted in nullifying the pick six? Wait, wait, stop. Wrong story. We're talking aberrations here. Which if we define that word, it means "a departure from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically one that is unwelcome". Beating Michigan State couldn't possibly be an aberration.
The time I was thinking of was last year and the Nebraska-MSU game. See, Nebraska was used to beating Michigan State. In fact, they had never lost to the Spartans. That year, when we lost to MSU, it was the weirdest aberration Husker fans ever experienced. The huskers gifted the spartans three turnovers that set them up in field goal range and Nebraska still hung close. Oh well. Blind nut, squirrel, yadda yadda, yadda.
Aaron: McNeese State sold out to stop the Nebraska running game. In the first half, Nebraska was able to pass the ball effectively and it didn't bother us. In the second half, Tommy decided that our receivers were better catching balls with their feet than their hands. When this didn't pan out and the Cowboys stacked the box against us, we got bottled up.
Cheeseandcorn: I wasn't able to catch most of the McNeese State game, but I gather that a big part of the problem was playcalling. McNeese sold out to stop the run, as Aaron said, and Nebraska resorted to low-percentage deep balls too often, which Armstrong couldn't pull off. With nothing to keep McNeese honest, they were able to swarm the run game. In the Huskers' other games, Armstrong's been able to pass just enough to keep defenses honest, and the O-line has gotten much better pushes, even against 8- and 9-man fronts.
Ranchbabe: Remember what I said about Armstrong shaking off mistakes and moving on? Um, yeah, forget I said that. Early in this game Nebraska was up 14-7 and driving rather ruthlessly on NcNeese. Then our young QB threw a costly pick-six near our own goal line. Instead of 21-7, we now had a 14-14 game. After that, our OC kept trying some pass plays to get the defense to back off, but Armstrong was determined to win the game. Every.Single.Play. He pre-determined his throws and was not terribly accurate. I suppose it is possible that perfect storm could happen again, but Tommy is pretty well regarded for his coolness and I think our OC learned what NOT to do in that situation.
5. Lastly, this is the part where law dictates you give your keys to the game and a final score prediction.
Andy: I'm sticking with my prediction that'll be in our thread Friday. Short version: MSU jumps out to a 14-3 lead, but NU comes back resulting in a wild 2nd half that plays out against expectations. It's a shootout with the Huskers pulling it out 44-41.
Cobby: Well, I hope you all learned some things today. Michigan being sucky is fun. Tommy Lee was singing the line in the Beach Boys, California Girls, "Midwest Farmers Daughters" every night. Nebraska alternative uniforms suck. And, finally, Michigan State isn't suppose to beat Nebraska. Corn "Cobbys" 28, Spartless 17.
Aaron: It's so hard to predict games between these two. So many things happen that affect the outcome that you don't expect. One year, the refs think that all wide receivers on the field are their daughters and call Pass Interference on any defender near them. The next year five turnovers account for the difference. All things being equal, Nebraska has really been able to stand up to Michigan State well the first three years in the Big Ten and I expect them to do so this weekend. Not all things are equal, though. I think Nebraska makes some mistakes and Michigan State is able to capitalize. Sparty 35, Huskers 24.
Cheeseandcorn: I'm with Aaron - I think these teams are more closely matched than a lot of people think. But Michigan State has been incredibly well-coached and mistake-free over the past couple of years under Dantonio, and Nebraska has, um, not. I think that ends up being the difference in a see-saw game that gets decided largely on a bone-headed penalty or turnover in the fourth quarter. Spartans 27, Huskers 24
Ranchbabe: Nebraska fans have been up this roller coaster before. Big game. Chance to finally shake that "good not great" label and announce "we're back" on the national scene. Crushing disappointment every time. A confident, efficient Spartan team that is pretty good at avoiding mistakes facing an [arguably] more talented Husker team that is somewhat streaky and can be made one-dimensional. Not to mention a defense that has a bad habit of watching the other team march down the field and score a touchdown on its first offensive series before developing the game plan. Sigh. Logic says the Spartans win this, but college football is not logical. Huskers by 1.