"Inconsistency has been the hallmark of Nebraska's 2011 football season. At times, the Huskers have looked like the team that prognosticators rated in the top ten in the preseason. But those times, such as Nebraska's third quarter against Washington, first quarter against Wisconsin, and fourth quarter against Ohio State have been overshadowed by meltdowns, such as the first half against Ohio State or the middle twenty minutes against Wisconsin. To listen to the coaching staff explain it, it's been a rash of little mistakes that have been exploited in the meltdowns. They've seen signs that the Huskers have finally turned the corner."
That's how my preview of the matchup between Michigan State and Nebraska. I said that the Huskers needed a "Complete Performance" to pull of the victory. And a complete performance is what the Nebraska Cornhuskers delivered. And in that complete performance, sent a message that despite a rough start to the conference season, Nebraska is ready to challenge for a Big Ten championship this season.
Mind you, the teeth of the schedule still awaits. Back to back road trips to Penn State and Michigan, playing in front of 220,000 fans, followed by the new "Black Friday" game against Iowa. Penn State has the defense to defeat anybody. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is the type of quarterback that deals the Nebraska defense fits. And Iowa is the team that, while usually losing two or three games they absolutely shouldn't each season also ends up winning a game they have no business winning. So while Nebraska is in the driver's seat, Nebraska must continue to win each week going forward.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First of all, here's this week's report card:QB: I was at the game, but apparently the ESPN talking heads thought Taylor Martinez shouldn't bother throwing any passes. I guess that's why they are on TV rather than actually working in football. Yesterday, we saw more evolution of Martinez from freak track athlete into a quarterback. Yes, his fundamentals aren't good...but he's really learning the mental aspects of the game. Example one: Sparty jumps offside, and Martinez realizes he's got a free play. So he throws the ball downfield and draws a pass interference penalty as well. Example two: Martinez realizes that Sparty is trying to substitute at their own goal line. So he quick counts the snap, and gets the play off. Even the officials are caught offguard: they miss the 12 Spartans on the field, that Rex Burkhead's knee was down before the ball came out, and most importantly, the ball was in the end zone. Thank goodness for instant replay. As for Martinez's play itself, it was fine. A long run was called back by a unnecessary penalty (more later), and while Martinez threw an interception, it wasn't his fault as Bell tipped it up in the air. Grade: A-
RB: Some snickered at the "Superman" tag from Rex Burkhead's high school days. Nobody's snickering anymore. OK, he's not a game breaker; he's not going to break off an 80 yard touchdown run. But what Burkhead does is plow ahead and gain positive yardage. He just makes plays. And yesterday, he carried the Husker offense for 35 rushes, 1 catch shortly after cramping up... and three touchdowns. He's earned a place in the hearts of every Husker fan for his hard work, and he'll be playing on Sunday in two years. Maybe not as a starter, but certainly as a third down back. Grade: A+
WR: Brandon Kinnie made a couple of nice catches, but we saw a few missteps from the bunch. Kenny Bell had a false start penalty that could have been critical, and deflected a pass . Quincy Enunwa had a completely unnecessary holding penalty that wiped out a long Taylor Martinez run. And Jamal Turner hasn't been executing in practice, earning him a spot on the bench for the entire game. Grade: C+
OL: Again, those rushing numbers might not look impressive. But the Spartans defensive line is one of the best in the country; Michigan State ranked in the top ten in all defensive categories for a reason, and the line really started to push them around in the second half. Those 2-3 yard runs from the first half became 4-5 yard runs in the second half. The much maligned Barney Cotton deserves praise, as does strength and conditioning coach James Dobson. Grade: A
DL: Jared Crick and Thaddeus Randle out? No problem. Just rotate people around. Move Cameron Meredith inside and bring in Eric Martin to give Kirk Cousins a big bear hug. The Pelini brothers have been building depth up front, and it's paying off now. Grade: A
LB: What more can you say about Lavonte David that hasn't been said yet? He was locked in on his reads and solid all day long. Loved the job he did reading a screen pass to the fullback at the start of the fourth quarter. Will Compton was all over Michigan State's running backs yesterday, coming up big all day. Grade: A
Secondary: The much maligned secondary earned much deserved kudos for turning in a stunning performance against Michigan State. Lance Thorell started it with an interception on the opening drive of the game. Alfonzo Dennard and Daimion Stafford combined to end B.J. Cunningham's 41 game streak of games with at least one catch. Cunningham's only contribution on the day? Tackling Thorell on the interception. And cornerback Andrew Green, a last second replacement for Stanley Jean-Baptiste, played the game of his life. In earlier action this season, Green was repeatedly burned by mistakes, but against Sparty, he was almost perfect. Seven tackles, two for losses. He and Dennard were so good in coverage that Cousins had nowhere to throw. Sometimes he had to throw the ball away; sometimes he didn't even have time to do that, thanks to the d-line. Grade: A+
Overall: A Impressive victory over a top ten foe. This is the Husker team we were looking for. Better late than never!
Husker Mike: I did predict Nebraska would score 24 points this week. Kudos to me. But I also predicted Sparty would score 34. Razzberries for me; not even close. Being half right is 50%...which means I get a big F.
Elsewhere in College Football
Iowegia: F For the second year in a row, the Squawkeyes lose to hapless Minnesota. Games like this are exactly why Iowa is Iowa. Every so often, Iowa goes out there and beats someone they shouldn't. But more often than not, they lose to teams they shouldn't.
Texas Tech: 0 Last week, the Raiders took out Oklahoma on the road. So how in the heck do you get blown out by Iowa State in your own stadium???
Iowa State: A The only problem with this victory? No postgame YouTube of Paul Rhoads.
Stanford: D Every team has an off week...you'd better hope that this was that one week.
Kansas 0 The only question about this game is this: Which was greater: Kansas yards (46) or Longhorn Network viewers (???)