As the Spartans came off of a hugely significant win over Wisconsin last week, the future looked bright for the green and white for the remainder of 2011. But that future is looking significantly dimmer after a miserable 24-3 defeat at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The game was painfully reminiscent of MSU’s road loss to Iowa on the same weekend one year ago. On that day the Spartans lost by a score of 37-6.
It looked like Michigan State was going to shake off their tendency of starting slowly during their first drive against Nebraska on Saturday.
The Spartans had achieved two first downs, relying heavily on Le’Veon Bell and the run game, when Cousins dropped back to throw to one of his receivers crossing the middle of the field. Nebraska defensive back Lance Thorell intercepted the ball and returned it to the Nebraska 25 yd line, setting the tone for what ended up as a long and frustrating game for the MSU offense.
Now normally I would try to breakdown the major plays of the game – explain where things went wrong, and what was good. But there’s not a lot to break down other than the fact that Michigan State got beaten, hands down, in Lincoln.
It’s hard to watch this kind of game when just a week ago it seemed like everything went the Spartans’ way and all the lucky breaks were in their favor. In this game, everything that could possibly go wrong did just that.
On offense, it all started up front with the line. Numerous times, the Nebraska defense sent only four pass rushers after State quarterback Kirk Cousins and managed to get to him. A few times Cousins had plenty of time to pass but then couldn’t seem to find any of his receivers open and ended up taking a sack.
Cousins finished completing 11 of 27 passes for 86 yds, no touchdowns and one interception – by far his most unproductive game of the season.
But not all of the blame can be put on Cousins and the O-line. B.J. Cunningham was virtually nonexistent and the rest of the receiving group did not step up.
Cunningham drew double teams on almost every play, which normally opens thing up for other receivers. But while I, and many others, would have expected Keshawn Martin, Dion Sims, Keith Nichol, or even Brian Linthicum, to step up and make big plays in the extra space, no one answered the call.
And the running game couldn’t seem to quite get off the ground either. The tandem of Edwin Baker and Bell finished with 22 carries for 96 yds and no touchdowns. It was tough to tell the cause, but other than the offensive line play the use of the two backs seemed to be spottier than normal. Bell played the first entire series.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Spartans didn’t give up any big plays in the first half and kept the game close. But as the game wore on, Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead wore on the Spartans, who couldn’t seem to come up with an answer for him. Burkhead ended the day accounting for two of the Cornhusker scores and running for 130 yds on 35 carries.
Michigan State did contain Taylor Martinez for the most part, but the Nebraska QB still managed to throw for one touchdown and execute the offense to set up the run game.
Probably the biggest disappointment in this game was the Spartans’ penalties and how much they impacted the game. After a flawless game, in terms of penalties, last weekend, State was flagged nine times against Nebraska. Those penalties totaled 90 yds and had much to do with the offense never getting a spark, and the defense having a hard time getting a stop.
At the end of the day this game can’t be called anything other than a big letdown for Michigan State. There was so much hype going into this game and none coming out of it.
But there is still hope. If you’re desperately searching for anything positive after today I offer this: there are still games left in the season. The Spartans may be down once again but this loss only drops them down to even with Michigan and Nebraska atop the Legends division. Nebraska still has a few tough games ahead of them and State owns the tiebreaker with Michigan. As long as the Spartans can win the rest of the games on their schedule, an appearance in the Big Ten championship game is still not out of the question for the green and white in 2011.
The quest renews next week when Michigan State battles Minnesota in East Lansing.