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Report Card: Michigan State Spartans 23, Huskers 20

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Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Didn’t.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Nebraska at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are exclamations for games like this one: “The Pinkel Factor.” “Clempsoning.”

And, of course, “Sparty NOOOOO!

Each were a way to quickly express the tendency some programs seem to have to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. Nebraska under Scott Frost doesn’t have that yet...but it’s probably time.

There’s a solid argument to be made that Nebraska could be 4-1 with merely average special teams play. (There’s also a solid argument that Nebraska could be 5-0 with merely average offensive line play, but I digress.)

Frustrating as all hell. Maddening.

But here’s the deal with that; it’s not terminal. Michigan State went on to win three Big Ten championships under Coach Dantonio and play in a BCS game (2014 Rose Bowl) and two New Years’ Six bowl games, including a CFP semifinal. Missouri not only played in two Big XII Championship games under Pinkel, they then turned around and played in two SEC title games after switching conferences.

And, of course, Clemson won National Championships in 2016 and 2018.

This isn’t to say that Nebraska is on the verge of winning a National Championship. What I am saying is that finding insane ways to lose games like Nebraska did to Michigan State is not a terminal condition.

There were a lot of great things to take away from the game against Michigan State. The defense looks dominant for the first time since probably 2009. There is no Suh on this roster; it’s just a group of defenders playing at an extremely high level collectively. That 2009 team also found ways to lose in the most mind numbing fashion possible, such as that eight turnover debacle against Iowa State.

You know what would help this team greatly? An offensive line that’s merely average. The simple answer is that Nebraska’s offensive line depth chart lists seven freshmen among the top 11 linemen. That’s inexperience. (That’s tempered by the fact that last season didn’t count in terms of seasons of eligibility, but still, that shows we have mostly underclassmen on the offensive line.) But is there more to the problem than that?

The offensive line problems have a cascading effect. The running game never gets going, and the quarterback is constantly under pressure, meaning he doesn’t have enough time to find open receivers. It’s the foundation of the offense, and that foundation is anything but sturdy. And let’s be honest... if the offense is controlling the game, they aren’t punting as much...and punting failures become more of an annoyance than a fatal mistake.

So with that, it’s off with this week’s grades. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.

QB: I don’t think we’ll ever really know what Adrian Martinez’s ceiling is, but he’s the main reason that Nebraska has been in position to win games offensively all season long. Martinez didn’t have his best game in this game, but he might have had his toughest effort. Did he make a mistake in overtime? Absolutely. But Nebraska never takes the lead in this game without Martinez either. Logan Smothers did OK when he was pressed into service while Martinez was getting his chin X-rayed in the locker room. Grade: B

I-Back: Rahmir Johnson showed a few flashes out there, but Sevion Morrison made the most of his limited time. I do believe Morrison might have the biggest upside of any Nebraska back. But it’s all dependent on the offensive line figuring things out. Grade: C-

WR: Zavier Betts had an impressive first half, but then left with an injury. I see Frost, Lubick and Martinez making an effort to get Betts and Omar Manning going along with Samori Toure. Combine this threesome with tight ends Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek (who had one heck of a catch), and this looks like Nebraska’s best receiving corps in eight or nine years. I do like how they are trying to get the receivers involved in the option game, even if the Big Ten’s officiating and replay crews are befuddled by this dark magic. Grade: B

Offensive Line: Four penalties, seven sacks, eleven times the Spartans tackled a Husker for a loss. It’s just so frustrating watching Nebraska’s inability to run and block. Adrian Martinez is doing his darndest to make plays without decent protection, but if he wasn’t running for his life every other play, perhaps he’d be more able to sit back and read through his progressions to find that guy that’s wiiiiide open. Grade: a very low F.

Defensive Line: I thought the line laid the groundwork for this game. Deontre Thomas’ unnecesssary throwdown of Payton Thorne in the first quarter could have been a disaster, but after Nebraska held the Spartans on the next four downs, NU ended up with better field position than they would have had if Sparty had punted. Grade: A-

Linebackers: What a game. Luke Reimer and Nick Henrick are playing at an incredibly high level right now, while Garrett Nelson is making a lot of noise up front on the outside. Those three combined for 26 tackles, 2 sacks and a pass breakup. Oh, and we can’t forget about JoJo Domann’s play, especially cleaning up Thomas’ mistake in the first quarter. Grade: A+

Secondary: Marquel Dismuke looked like he was the intended receiver on his interception. Deontai Williams had a good game as well, even if the referees were trying to be ultra-conservative with their targeting reviews. Because the front seven were doing such a great job, it was a quiet evening for the secondary. Grade: A-

Special Teams: Let’s clear one thing up right now. It’s NOT the same mistakes each week; it’s just that Nebraska’s special teams are like a game of whack-a-mole. We aren’t sure what part of the game is going to fail next. The first two weeks, it was punt returns. Last week, placekicking was an issue. This week, Connor Culp was just fine on his placekicking. Punting was this week’s debacle. Here’s Nebraska’s net punting on the day: Przystup 28 yards (shank out of bounds), Cerni 24 yards (touchback), Przystup 41 yards (fair catch), Przystup 7 yards (shank out of bounds), Cerni 33 yards (out of bounds at the MSU 9), Cerni 0 yards (game tying touchdown), Przystup 42 yards (fair catch). Three horrible, one meh and three OK punts. Punt returns were bad, but at least nothing was fumbled. Kickoff returns and coverage also leave a lot to be desired. Coverage is completely dependent on Brandon Franke getting the ball into the end zone for a touchback. Meanwhile, Nebraska needs to just give up on returning kickoffs and insist on fair catching ANYTHING kicked inside the 20 yard line. Nebraska is 113th nationally, averaging just 15 yards a return. Just call fair catch and take the ball on the 25 yard line because that’s probably an extra 8-10 yards of field position. Grade: another low F.

Overall: C- What a waste of a great second half defensive performance. One yard of Spartan offense in the fourth quarter, with the Spartans only possessing the ball for 6:42 in the second half. My biggest worry is that rather than get even madder about the mistakes, the players who ARE trying to win don’t give up. Nebraska has the talent to finish the season 7-5 or even 8-4...but the awful issues make 4-8 well within the realm of possibilities.

Poll

How would you grade the Huskers performance against Michigan State

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    A - I’m actually a Sparty fan
    (46 votes)
  • 22%
    B - Great defense, OK offense (sans the OL) and too many special teams calamities.
    (305 votes)
  • 39%
    C - Great defensive play spoiled by special teams
    (521 votes)
  • 9%
    D - Don’t punt anymore
    (121 votes)
  • 25%
    F - F’n failed to win the f’n football game
    (340 votes)
1333 votes total Vote Now

Elsewhere in College Football

Minnesota F The Goofers are simply not very good. It’s looking like Tanner Morgan’s 2019 season was the result of great receiver play...

Oklahoma D Is Oklahoma overrated? Evidence is mounting.

Wisconsin F I turned away from Notre Dame/Wisconsin to watch the train wreck unfolding in Minneapolis...and was shocked what the fourth quarter brought in Chicago.

Quadrangle of Hate F The only thing that saved this from being a zero was Iowa’s second half comeback against (checks schedule) Colorado State.