Scouting Report and Prediction: MSU vs. the Nebraska Cornhuskers

A look at this week’s opponent…

The Spartans head to Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers.  They are a deeply talented team with great fight.  They don’t do everything well (few teams do), but what they do is excellent.

What makes Nebraska a top five-college football program is not just the football on the field, it is the entire experience.  Lincoln, Nebraska, perhaps has the best fans in college football and without a doubt, the best game day football experience at any level, anywhere.

When MSU has the ball…

The Spartans game plan this week is simple.  They have to remain balanced.  Unlike other teams that the Spartans face where you look at a pass to run or run to pass approach, Nebraska is very different.

When people have success on them it is with balance.  It is when you don’t allow them to pigeon hole you into one specific plan.  The Spartans will be in a chess match all day with the Cornhuskers staff and they will be mixing it up.

Balance is very important because they have athletes and great players.  This is a battle of two heavyweights.  I am not as interested in stats for this game as I am with MSU simply using QB Kirk Cousins to punish the Huskers when they get too aggressive (and they will) and the running game when they back off.

 

When MSU is on defense…

Taylor Martinez is their QB.  I have seen many equate him to Dennard Robinson and that isn’t fair.  He is a better passer (accuracy), but also has a tendency to make bad decisions.

 

The key to this game is MSU making Nebraska and Martinez throw the ball.  If the Spartans stop the run, Nebraska has no chance.  Martinez’s penchant for poor decisions mixed with the best defensive backfield he has faced should be a good mix for the Spartan Nation.

 

Some may take the need to have Martinez throw as a sign that the Huskers have poor WR and TEs.  Those people would be wrong.  They are among the best in the B1G.  That is why the key is forcing Martinez to do it.  When he isn’t rushed, he is fine.  He sits back and plays pitch and catch with some great athletes.  Pressure him and he makes bad choices.

 

Earlier this week I don’t think Martinez was being disrespectful of MSU when he said that they didn’t stop Dennard Robinson, the wind did.  I think he was being honest.  I don’t get the impression he is all that impressed with the MSU defense.

 

Look for MSU to use the four-man pressure, with a variance of off player blitzes.  Pressure, pressure, pressure!  Martinez will be forced to make quick decisions with the ball.  He will get yards, but he can’t beat you.  Rex Burkhead is the weapon that keeps opposing DCs up at night in fear.  He is a complete back, with all the tools.  He will be a great pro.  Stop the run is the Spartan mantra.  Like Michigan, they will get some yards, but again this game isn’t about stats.

Intangibles…

Regular readers, listeners, and viewers of Spartan Nation know that since Nebraska first showed up in the B1G radar I have been excited.  It is a special and magical place.  In all of my years covering football, it is the best place to watch a game.

The fans are simply amazing.  The experience is awesome in the stands and the tailgating, and here is the point to ponder.  This is not a slam.  The Cornhusker people are what make it great.  The facilities are nice, but not awe inspiring.  They have simply made the people the focal point and have done it well.

A few years ago my buddy was battling cancer in his body.  The prognosis was not good.  He asked me where he should go take in a college football game before he passed.  I didn’t hesitate to tell him Nebraska.

When asked this week, look at what Mark Dantonio said FIRST about the Huskers, “Big challenge this week versus Nebraska. Great environment, great atmosphere…”

He went on to add, “One of the more impressive things that I’ve seen is all of the people in the end zone. It just keeps going and going, about 30,000 on one and 20,000 on the other it seems like.”

Dantonio wasn’t stopped praising Memorial Stadium and the fans.  “I think the environment is fueled by the tradition that they have there, the fan support. I think they have 1,600 straight games of sellouts dating back to ’62 if that makes sense, which is incredible. It’s a program that has seen national prominence really through my lifetime. I think there’s also some similarities because Bob Devaney was a Michigan State guy, was one of Duffy’s coaches, and he went out there and said there’s a little bit of a feeling like we understand them and know them and there’s probably some similarities based on the past.”

The biggest intangible to me is Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini.  I am not a fan.  He made some whining comments last year about how hard it is to recruit to Nebraska.  What a joke!  That place is amazing and the fan base will give you ANYTHING (without cheating) you need to win.  You have arguable the greatest college football coach in history as your AD and then flirted with other jobs.  You go to Nebraska to retire.  If you leave, it is because you failed NOT THEM.

He is a hot head.  When rattled he makes poor decisions and can be slow to adjust.  If MSU forces the Huskers from their game plan he will not out coach Mark Dantonio.  He isn’t even in the top half of B1G coaches and he leads a top five all time program in my opinion.

Force the game to Pelini.  Have him make decisions and have to change.  Many consider him a defensive genius, but he has always been at places where he could get the talent.  Put the game in his lap.

Unlike his AD who could and did out coach everyone, things are different.  Coach O could take his players and beat you.  Coach O could take your players and beat you.  He was that good.  Pelini is NOT Coach O and in fairness, how many are?

Prediction… 

Michigan State is on a mission.  Earlier this week Martinez talked about this game not being a must win or the Huskers could handle a loss.  It was strange.  In all my years of covering sports I had never heard anything like that.  MSU has a must win mantra and want this bad.

Do not underestimate the power of the experience and environment.  MSU has a lot of leadership and having been around this week are on a mission.

This is going to be yet again another hard-hitting battle and the Spartans win this 28-24.