Nebraska Football: Can Huskers slow down Connor Cook?


When the Nebraska Cornhuskers take the field on Saturday, they will begin their toughest stretch of games this season. Instead of being in the midst of a Big Ten title run, the (3-6) Huskers can only play spoilers in November. Although the Nebraska Football season hasn’t been what anyone expected, they can still become a factor when it comes to the College Football Playoff.

Their first game of November is against the No.7 Michigan State Spartans (8-0). So far, Connor Cook has led the undefeated Spartans, while becoming the most consistent quarterback in the Big Ten. Cook leads the conference with 17 touchdown passes, and two interceptions. However, the Spartans don’t annihilate opponents with the passing game. Let’s hope it’s not a different story on Saturday.

Cook only throws the ball 31.5 times per game. Still, the Spartans can surgically dismantle a defense with their play action passing attack. As we’ve seen this season, it doesn’t take much for the Huskers’ defense to become off balanced. Therefore, Cook and the Spartans might look to attack through the air early.

The Huskers have shown flashes of playing good defense. They’ve shown spots of brilliance on all three levels. However, they’ve been torched in every game this season. Currently, Nebraska’s opponents complete 57 percent of their passes. On the surface, those numbers aren’t outlandish, but when the Huskers aren’t forcing incomplete passes, they are giving up huge plays. Teams are dropping 316 passing yards per game on their heads. Opponents are averaging a little over 13 yards per catch, on 24 completions per game.

There’s no question, Cook wants to take his shots at the secondary. It’s been a theme for most opponents to throw more than normal against the Huskers. Facing 42 pass attempts per game, the defense has worn down late in games. At least the Huskers will have some help returning in the secondary.

Byerson Cockrell

Safety Byerson Cockrell will be in the lineup after missing Saturday’s loss to Purdue. They will also have Jonathan Rose back after a two game suspension. Unfortunately, the whole unit won’t be completely healthy.

Aaron Burbridge is Cook’s favorite target. He leads the Spartans with 51 catches, for 820 yards, and five touchdowns. Burbridge can make the spectacular catch look easy, and he’ll be a problem for the Huskers’ secondary. Cook’s other two main targets are L.J. Scott and Macgarrett Kings. They have combined for 51 catches, for 605 yards, and five touchdowns as well. If Nebraska is going to slow Michigan State down, they must contain these guys.

In the last couple of games, the defense has really been decimated by the quarterback running game. Cook has never been known as a threat in the ground attack, but he can take an opening if available. Right now, he has 33 carries for 63 yards. The Huskers won’t have to worry about Cook running, right?

More from Husker Corner

The Huskers’ defense only has 18 sacks this season. Since covering the receivers for long periods of time hasn’t been fruitful, maybe the defensive line can dominate the Spartans up front. The linebackers haven’t recorded a sack all season, so it will be a surprise if they got in the backfield this weekend.

With the Huskers giving up 28 points per game, the likelihood of the defense shutting down Cook is not high. However, don’t count the defense out just yet. They have people to make plays. It’s only a matter of consistency. It might also come down to turnovers. Nebraska gives away two turnovers per game. Can the defense stop the Spartans on a short field? They got worked by Purdue in quick-change situations last week.

Next: Are Huskers worst team in Big Ten?

In the end, the Huskers have to hold Michigan State under their 33 points per game average to have a chance. Otherwise, Nebraska could be facing their third straight loss this season.