LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 29: Nebraska Cornhusker defensive coordinator Carl Pelini reacts to a penalty during their game against the Michigan State Spartans at Memorial Stadium October 29, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Michigan State 24-3. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Yesterday, Carl Pelini handed out 20 blackshirts. They were a reward for a dominating game against Michigan State on Saturday. And, they were well deserved. Nebraska held Kirk Cousins to 87 yards passing and Michigan State's run game to 101 yards. But is the defense "back"? It's easy to forget about the first 7 games and just picture out defense being as good the rest of the way as they were last Saturday. It's what we've grown accustom to the past few years. Is it realistic, though?
An appropriate test is coming up this weekend. Northwestern scored 59 last weekend. Yes, it was against Indiana, but as the season progresses, you expect your team to get better and Northwestern seems to be hitting whatever stride they are going to have for the remainder of the year. Remember that awesome defense we had in 2009? The week after they got their blackshirts, Texas Tech came to town and lit em up, 31-10.
Will they lose focus this week and bask in the glory of the Michigan State game? Hopefully not. Michigan State can look at their schedule and see that they will likely win out. Losing to Nebraska isn't the end of the world because the Huskers have a good chance of losing again. That would give the Spartans the edge in the division race. The Huskers know that their margin for error is very small.
"Don't drink the Kool-Aid," Hardrick said. "We're getting a lot of compliments right now, a lot of good things right now. Don't feed into it. We've got a lot of examples of teams that did good, drank the Kool-Aid, then they lost. You've just got to stay hungry. Right now I feel like everyone is hungry. That's the best thing we can do right now."
Northwestern can score a lot of points. They have a very good offensive scheme, but they also seem like a team that opposing defenses' just need a half to figure out and then they usually shut down the Wildcats in the second half. They led Michigan at halftime 24-14, but eventually lost 42-24. The hung 24 on Penn State in the first half, but were scoreless in the second half. Teams will a good defense find a way to beat Northwestern. This is game the Husker's can't lose, but could be dangerous if they don't give the Wildcats the props they deserve.
Maybe there will be a few more speed bumps along the way. Tough road games at Michigan and Penn State will test the defense. Michigan can put up points and we may need the defense to keep Penn State under 10 points to win that one. Northwestern and Iowa are fighting for pride and a bowl game at this point. A win over Nebraska is huge for them in accomplishing that goal.
You get the feeling that the defense is almost there. Just a little more polishing and they will be conference-championship caliber. We'll find out this weekend when Dan Persa and Northwestern come to town.