Sigh (big box score):
And in graphical form:
[As always, this data is sack-adjusted. Check out Bill Connelly's Five Factors here. Nebraska's kneeldown to end the first half has been removed.]
Pace Issues (And not in the Macgarrett Kings sense)
I'm not sure what the coaching staff could do about this one, but after a blistering start to the game, the pace slowed considerably in the second half; MSU had 7 drives in the first half compared to 5 in the second half. It's always hard to argue with a nearly-nine minute drive like MSU had to dry up the majority of the fourth quarter and take a two-touchdown lead. Overall, If your team is (likely) better than your opponent, you want to have more drives to exert that advantage. This MSU team, on the season, has played slowly and that has caused game to be closer than necessary. It finally bit them.
This is nicely crystallized in the second-to-last drive of the game for MSU. Instead of attempting a pass to get the game-clinching first down, MSU ran the ball three times for -3 yards and burned all of 55 seconds from the game clock. Why not run normal offense in that situation? If you stop the clock with an incompletion, you may end up with more time at the end of the game to get a field goal. If you get the first down, the game is over. I don't understand the conservatism.
The Defense Is Bad
I've tried to fight this conclusion for awhile, but there's no avoiding it. Giving up 7.2 yards per play to Nebraska is terrible, and it was bad on both the ground and through the air. Yes, injuries have been devastating to this group, from Ed Davis to Vayante Copeland to R.J. Williamson; no, that's really no consolation. The good news is that theoretically there will be a highly experienced defensive backs group in a year or two *waves tiny flag*.But total yardage and total points allowed stats will hide the true nature of this defense, because MSU has been playing such a slow pace all season.
But Not as Bad as Special Teams
I would say that the kickoffs issue is unbelievable, but given this season it is totally believable. Given the efficiency of this offense, it is absolutely wild that this team could end up at such a field position disadvantage, but that was managed. Michael Geiger hit his lone field goal attempt, and Jake Hartbarger was generally solid on the day. Despite these positives, special teams gave short field after short field to Nebraska, who (to their credit) capitalized. If you play a slow pace, then you've probably got to be halfway decent at special teams; it is amazing this hadn't bitten us yet.
Look, this MSU team probably had some red flags that I had been ignoring up to this point, and they came to a head in this game. But the season isn't yet over, theoretically.
After some #chaos got avoided in the afternoon slate of games (like FSU/Clemson or even IU/Iowa) it isn't hard to envision a scenario in which a 1-loss B1G champion gets into the playoff. The harder thing to envision in this scenario is beating Ohio State in Columbus. That's probably not happening with three true freshmen and a converted wide receiver playing significant time in the defensive backfield.
That sucks. And it sucks not only because of this year, but because the future is a little cloudy without Connor Cook or Aaron Burbridge. You can count on MSU to be competitive until proven otherwise, but 2015 seemed like it was set up to be The Year.
Will it ever be The Year?