Grading the Game (Michigan State)

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Nebraska faced off with the top-ranked defense in the Big Ten this week, and came up big, shutting down Michigan State’s offense with a ravenous defense and doubling the usual rushing yards allowed by the Spartans, posting 190 yards en route to a 24-3 victory. How do the Huskers grade out?

Rush Offense: A-

Running back Rex Burkhead rushed for 130 yards on a career-high 35 carries, the most by an NU running back since Cory Ross had 37 carries against Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. Nebraska strung together 190 yards on the ground against what was a top-ten rush defense in Michigan State. The Spartans’ defensive line looked significantly weaker than advertised, as Nebraska’s offensive line bullied them around for most of the game.

Pass Offense: B-

At halftime, the Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had only completed one pass, to tight end Ben Cotton, for zero yards. In the second half, the Huskers were able to develop a bit more rhythm on key downs in the passing game. Wide receiver Jamal Turner was noticeably absent from the game, but players like wide receivers Brandon Kinnie, Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa picked up the slack. Martinez was far from perfect, missing the target a few times, but the passing game was a fairly stable crutch to lean on when the rushing attack wasn’t appropriate.

Rush Defense: A-

Michigan State only compiled 101 yards rushing on the night, their longest rush coming for only 13 yards on a scramble by MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins. Lavonte David, who had 13 tackles, and Will Compton, who added 7 tackles in what looked like the best performance of his career, were all over the field cleaning up anything that got through the defensive line. There were a couple moments where the Spartans were able to slip through some gaps for first downs, but on the whole, the Blackshirts dictated MSU’s rush game.
Pass Defense: A+

Nebraska’s pass defense, which limited Cousins to just 86 yards passing, was fueled by an outstanding four man pass rush. Carl Pelini’s plan to stand up NU’s defensive lineman for the pass rush, which was inspired by the Pittsburgh Steelers, allowed the Blackshirts to use seven defenders in pass coverage. Cousins was sacked four times, twice by defensive end Eric Martin. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard set a career-high with three pass breakups, en route to ending MSU wide receiver BJ Cunningham’s 41-game catch streak.

Special Teams: C-

While kicker/punter Brett Maher had one impressive 60-yard punt and nailed a 20-yard field goal, the rest of the special teams unit was flat. Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead weren’t able to get anything done in the return game and kickoff and punt return coverage was soft. Normally NU’s strong suit, special teams have been an issue the past few weeks.

Photo courtesy Getty Images

By Chris Peters