Just a little over 24 hours till the tussle at Memorial Stadium for the B1G West lead. The Michigan State Spartans are coming to town to take on your Nebraska Cornhuskers, and we need to find out what Sparty thinks about this game.
For this, I got a hold of Chris Vannini, Managing Editor of The Only Colors, Michigan State's SBNation community.
We did a Q and A for them earlier this week, and we thank the guys over there for working with us.
1. So, last year MSU had about all the bad luck it seemed with their schedule, and now, save the Notre Dame game, the luck has evened out. Talk about the journey to Saturday and what this team has endured this season.
Well, last year, seven of eight Big Ten games were decided by four points or less. This year none of the five conference game has been decided by fewer than 12. Oh, and they've won them all. The way this season started with ugly wins over Western Michigan and South Florida made everyone expect a repeat of 2012, and there was questioning about the long-term future of the program. But since Connor Cook has settled in, MSU's offense has actually been quite competent. Watching the offense is no longer like pulling teeth, and we actually expect it to score real points. As Cook has improved, so has the running game with backs Jeremy Langford and Delton Williams. MSU is actually fourth in the Big Ten in yards per play in conference play. The defense was hyped up to be the best in the Dantonio era, and it has surpassed that. The results is an 8-1 record that isn't a fluke.
2. We know the defense is beyond no joke. Some of the Nebraska fanbase has claimed that MSU’s defense has been inflated by a "soft schedule" that has had terrible offenses to feast on, even though I wouldn’t call ND and Indiana bad offenses, really. What kind of reaction do you have to that statement?
The problem with college football is that these arguments are prevalent because of all the teams and the lack of balance in some schedules. No, MSU has not played many great offenses, but neither has Alabama, and they get the respect. MSU's defense deserves the same. Husker Math did a post a few weeks ago ranking units based on how they performed relative to the opponents' other opponents. MSU's defense came out on top, holding opponents to 60 percent of their total output, and that was before allowing fewer than 200 yards to both Illinois and Michigan.
In the end, there's not really anything you can do to counter the "you haven't played anyone" argument than by continuing to dominate who you play, and that's what MSU's defense will have to do.
3. Keeping with the D, now that Taylor Martinez isn’t going to go and Tommy Armstrong Jr is the man, is there a sense of relief across the fanbase? Is there a fear of Ameer Abdullah running all over Sparty, while Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa will have success against the secondary?
I think most MSU fans have plenty of faith in the defense, but there's no doubt Martinez being done helps MSU, considering what he did last year. I don't think MSU fans "fear" any offense outside of Baylor and Oregon, but Nebraska will present its share of challenges. Nebraska certainly has good receivers, but you need a good quarterback to get the ball there, and MSU's defensive style forces quarterbacks to make throws they don't consistently make. I'll say MSU fans fear the passing game more than the rushing game, though, because of MSU's propensity to give up some big plays in the air.
4. Going to the offensive side of the ball, there was grumbling earlier on in the season about how this team couldn’t score points. While no one would claim that the Western Michigan, Purdue or ND games were barnburners, you did put some points up in your last three contests. With the bye week, what do you expect to see come Saturday from Jim Bollman and Dave Warner that makes Sparty better on O?
I mentioned it above, but since getting into Big Ten play, the offense has been a lot less vanilla, and results have followed, averaging more than 30 points per game. Even the Purdue game, MSU had one of its best yards-per-drive performances of the year, but they had the worst field position of the year, so those drives didn't get into scoring range often. MSU typically scores on long, time-consuming drives. This includes a number of third down conversions. Nebraska's defense is No. 3 in allowing third downs, so this will be a key to the game. If Nebraska can keep MSU in long-distance downs, it will make the offense more one-dimensional than it wants to be. One thing you can expect is shallow crossing routes on 3rd-and-medium. MSU will do this at least five times a game.
5. Talk about what the fanbase thinks of Mark Dantonio. Is there patience with him in case MSU doesn’t win the B1G West Division? (we don’t call it Leaders/Legends at CN). Furthermore, if and when Pat Narduzzi leaves East Lansing, what could possibly happen to keep MSU’s status as a D juggernaut afloat?
After the slow start, patience was wearing a little thin. Though Dantonio's job wasn't close to being in jeopardy, some wanted Narduzzi to slide into head coach sooner than later. That's likely not going to be the case. Since the turnaround, Dantonio is beloved by fans again, and that's not going to change if they don't win the division. Dantonio will retire from MSU on his own terms. As for Narduzzi leaving, it's likely he takes a head coaching job somewhere else before possibly returning to MSU. I would expect a promotion from a position coach, as that has always been the way Dantonio does things. He likes continuity and is very loyal, so he's not going to make any drastic changes to something that is going well.
6. Tell us about any players Nebraska fans should keep an eye on both sides of the ball for that you haven’t mentioned yet, and why?
On a defense full of studs, sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun is probably the least heralded of the bunch. He replaced NFL draft pick Will Gholston and has been an improvement. He has 11 tackles for loss, which is second in the Big Ten and has 17 QB hurries. Against the option offense, he and defensive end Marcus Rush will be key. On offense, Cook throws to ball to so many targets that there isn't any one person that sticks out, but I'll go with the running backs Langford and Williams. The former has more speed, while the latter has more power. If the weather is as bad as the forecast, MSU will need to run the ball.
7. Alright, prediction time. Tell us how you see the game unfolding, and a final outcome.
I'm going with 21-14 MSU. I think this will be an ugly game, especially if the weather is poor. A turnover or two could be the difference in this one. I really have a hard time seeing Nebraska's offense, full of backups on the line and under center, moving the ball very much. It's going to need to come on big plays. As for MSU's offense, I know the Nebraska defense has improved, and they rack up the TFLs. As I mentioned, MSU will need to be able to run the ball to set up 3rd-and-shorts. I think the MSU offense does enough and the defense holds on for the win.