The "Questions" half of the MSU series can be found here.
Wow. What a change from a week ago. The Purdue loss stunned everyone and the unavoidable questions about the leadership of the program surfaced; justifiably so. What was billed as a move to get the program to the next level looked like it was a full-blown rebuild. I mean, seriously, who really thought we should have a 9-win season again?!? (Don't read my pre-season predictions.)
Husker Nation brought it. BROUGHT. IT. On Monday (after the Purdue game), I was convinced Connor Cook would do unspeakable, terrible things to the Husker defense. By Thursday, I could sense a complete shift in the energy around the team and the fans. By Saturday morning, I was pretty convinced this team had at least a 50/50 shot at the upset. I did not dare write it down or say it out loud (makes it conveniently easy to claim I saw it coming - I know). By game time, I was convinced of the win. The energy in Memorial Stadium was palpable even to someone three hours away.
This win changes the tone of Husker Nation a lot. Just as it was OK for the Purdue loss to sound some alarm bells, it is just as OK for this win to bring out the positives. After two Huskers left the program in the week between Purdue and Sparty, Devine Ozigbo sent a rather blunt tweet which adroitly sums up Husker football this season.
Like I said NOT FOR THE WEAK!! #GBR— Devine Ozigbo (@TrulyDevine_22) November 8, 2015
Very true Devine.
Are you ready for Nebraska to go "Full Stave" and pass it 50 times?
No and once again, I completely whiffed on the game plan prediction.
This was an incredibly balanced team with 36 rushes and 33 pass attempts. Nebraska earned 11 first downs rushing and 12 of them passing (and 1 by penalty). There were 179 rush yards by the Huskers and 320 passing yards by Tommy. This was the first Husker win of 2015 with under 200 yards rushing. Somehow, an offense that could/would not move the ball on the ground against the pitiful Illinois and Northwestern rush defenses managed to do so (with their #1 back out of the game due to injury) against the fast and disciplined Spartan defensive line.
For all the screaming about offensive play calling (looks in mirrors then up at ceiling whistling...) this team goes as the offensive line goes. The big guys up front did some work Saturday. Tommy was not sacked once and Nebraska averaged 5.0 yards per carry. This was a good day at the office for the Husker offense (499 total yards).
Can a battered and bruised team pull off the improbable upset?
In a night full of gutsy performances, Alonzo Moore and Jordan Westerkamp might have delivered the gutsiest. Moore was playing in some serious pain and still managed to make some great grabs. Westerkamp was fed to the wolves by his QB more than once (welcome to the life of a slot receiver) and hung on to some catches mere mortals might have dropped. That does not even include Brandon Reilly, Stanley Morgan, and Tommy Armstrong playing hurt. I'm sure Nick Gates is still not 100% but he was part of a tremendous effort by the guys up front.
On defense, there were linebackers limping all over the place, defensive backs dropping like flies at one point, and 99%* of the defensive lineman have an injury of some type.
*I made that statistic up, but I suspect it is not far away from the real number.
The defensive backs and Coach Banker seem to have found some middle ground (of course, Michigan State's conservative offense may have helped) and we saw some good coverage and good positioning by the corners and safeties at times. Connor Cook had to throw incredibly accurate balls to complete some of those passes. That is something a high-round draft pick should be able to do, but it was nice to see the coverage force the excellent throw--more than we have seen in the past games anyway. Jonathan Rose deserves a shout-out for registering his first career interception on a great snag (and returned it for 12 yards).
The "team" mentality came through loud and clear. My kids immediately noticed what was written on the tape on Brandon Reilly's wrists when the game broadcast started:
Will any new playmakers emerge at this point of the season?
Maybe, if you count Imani Cross as a new playmaker. The Husker hammer got the start in place of the injured Terrell Newby and made the most of it. He netted 98 yards on 18 carries for an average of 5.4 ypc. Andy Janovich averaged 6.5 on his 4 carries and led the way for Cross on quite a few others. Both Cross and Janovich bulldozed the way for one of Tommy's rushing TDs. Combine that with Cethan Carter's excellent blocking (o-line already got their kudos above), and it felt like good old fashioned Husker football where the line of scrimmage was ours. OURS, I SAY!
The other "maybe" is Stanley Morgan. He showed flashes at receiver earlier in the season, but his kick returns have been a welcome sight these past two games. He gained 89 yards on 3 returns against Sparty and 81 yards on 3 returns against the Boilermakers.
While we have known these two are playmakers all season long, it was nice to see conference and national analysts take notice:
What are your thoughts? Did I miss something? Tell me in the comments!