That was fun. For those of you who sat this one out at home - or even worse, left early - that opening line may not make any sense, so let me explain since ESPN cut straight to Southern Cal/Arizona. After Connor Cook's final pass landed just shy of Nebraska's marching band, stadium DJ Chris Pankonin broke out DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat"...and the party was underway. Fast forward to about 6:00 of this sideline video to get an idea of just how crazy it got down on Tom Osborne Field.
It's been a long season, and Huskers everywhere needed this release. Did Nebraska get a gift call from the officials? For those of us in the stadium, we never saw a replay as conclusive as the one ESPN provided from the high camera. (Or in my defense, on the Alonzo Moore pass interference penalty either.) Sparty fan has a point...but Michigan State certainly had their opportunities to seal this victory. Arjen Colquhon could have ended it with an interception just before the game winner, and Mark Dantonio took the game out of Connor Cook's hands on their second to last series. And Connor Cook could have had a little more sense of urgency on the final play; did he think that a Big XII ref would give the Spartans a Mack Brown extra second?
This game debunked a lot of false narratives that have been thrown out as of late: Nebraska can't run the ball, doesn't have enough talent, and has given up on the season and these coaches. Nebraska hasn't played well most of the season, but for one night, we saw why some people thought the Huskers could win the west. While that's not happening, Nebraska can still get to a bowl game (even at 5-7)...and that would take a bit of the sting out of this season.
So on with the report card...as much as I'd like to grade on the curve this week, there were some things that were better than other things. So let's celebrate but not go overboard...and as always, your feedback is welcome in the comments:
QB: Evidence has shown pretty convincingly that Nebraska is more successful on offense when running plays are called more than pass plays. So it was rather disappointing when Nebraska went three-and-out with two incomplete passes on the opening drive. But better balance ensued in the game, with 36 rushes and 33 passes. Some of Tommy Armstrong's passes were 50/50 balls (like his second to last one) that could have been picked off, and then there was that 0/100 pass that he aimed right at Riley Bullough in the third quarter. And he hung out Jordan Westerkamp multiple times with some of his passes. But he did drive the Huskers 91 yards in four plays at the end. That makes this a solid B+ outing.
I-Back: Imani Cross ran possessed, averaging a crisp 5.4 yards per carry against a pretty good Michigan State front seven. Nebraska's problems running the ball aren't a case of can't; it's more of a want-to. Fans recognize it too. At the start of the fourth quarter, I started chanting "Run. The. Ball" from my seats in the North Stadium, and very quickly, I wasn't alone.
The fans seriously just chanted "Run the ball." This is amazing. #Huskers— Jake Sorensen (@937JakeSorensen) November 8, 2015
Everyone in stadium chanting run the ball. Wow!! We did! See what happens. The fans are back in it. Momentum is back.— Larry The Cable Guy (@GitRDoneLarry) November 8, 2015
The only thing more surprising than seeing Terrell Newby in the game in the first half was seeing him in the second half, after he seemingly reinjured his ankle. Clearly, this coaching staff likes his presence in passing situations. Hope he's better for next week. Grade: A
Wide Receivers: Made the plays. Over and over and over again, even though they are banged up. Jordan Westerkamp left the game multiple times due to injury, and Brandon Reilly hardly practiced all week. Made plays, even when they didn't look like they were possible. And let's not forget Cethan Carter and Sam Cotton for helping open up the ground game; they weren't involved with the passing game, but their impact was very real. Grade: A+
Offensive Line: Yes, Alex Lewis had a false start, and Dylan Utter had a holding penalty. But the offensive line did their job, blasting holes in the Spartans defense and keeping Tommy Armstrong clean. Michigan State is 19th in the nation in rush defense, and Nebraska could have run more, if the coaches wanted. Grade: B+
Defensive Line: A relatively quiet day on the stat sheet, but on Michigan State's final drive, the line got pressure on Cook sending just four men...and it was the key to limiting Cook to just two plays at the end of the game. Did you notice Cook having to step up in the pocket before throwing the ball away? That was the difference between victory and having to face another Hail Mary attempt. Grade: B-
Linebackers: There was a high degree of rotation at the linebacker spots, likely due to the general injury situation. I saw some flashes from Michael Rose-Ivey and Marcus Newby, for what it's worth. But we saw Gerald Holmes get to the third level and beyond way too much in this game. Grade: C+
Secondary: Nate Gerry must have read his press clippings this week, right or wrong, as he stepped up big time. It also helped that Mark Banker rolled out some new looks on defense, which confused Connor Cook early in the game.
.@Tmadeqb9 just said Nebraska has mixed in two-high safety looks for the first time .all season and it's confused Connor Cook.— Sean Callahan (@Sean_Callahan) November 8, 2015
It's hard to give the secondary a great grade after allowing 348 yards passing, but at least it was Connor Cook in this game. It's not a great performance by any means, but it was better than we've seen. Grade: C
Overall: B Seems rough to not give them an A for upsetting a top ten team, but I still maintain this Nebraska team can play better. Now, can they put together two more games like this one? That's the challenge facing this team.
Elsewhere in College Football
TCU: D Goodbye Frogs, hello Cowboys into the playoff discussion.
Florida: D- Narrative: Vanderbilt's two point loss illustrates the depth of the SEC; Nebraska knocking Michigan State out of the playoff proves the Big Ten sucks.
Arkansas: Not sure how to grade this one; I don't think this is how BERT drew it up.
College football NEVER disappoints. How did Arkansas pull off this 1st Down? https://t.co/VNr9K99O7r— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) November 8, 2015