This is the game. Forget losing to Illinois. Forget playing the #3 team in the country close. If we are going to get where we want to be, this is the game that matters. If you remember my season preview, I had Illinois as a win, but Oklahoma and Sparty as a loss in back to back weeks. With what happened in week 1, I think this is a must win game for Nebraska. Feel free to roast me for this, but I think Michigan State is a better coached team than Oklahoma, and quite frankly may be better overall right now than the Sooners, they will be a really tough game for us.
Luckily, I think we match up better with Sparty than the Sooners. While Oklahoma did not impress me at all in their game against Tulane or us, MIchigan State has. With that said, even though we were trying to be physical with Oklahoma, the matchup just wasn’t quite there for us. They still had the better players and could overcome their shortfalls with superior football players. That is not the case in East Lansing.
Mel Tucker has shown he is good at rebuilding programs. He landed the Michigan State job after just one year in Colorado. And if you remember how I would really mock the people saying that Frost inherited bad culture by responding with “then quit playing those guys”, Tucker did it the way I would have. Get rid of what you don’t want, quit making it an excuse, and he has his team 3-0 for 2021 and ranked 20th in the nation. All the while Nebraska fans on message boards are claiming that our Oklahoma loss was actually a good thing, or our OL struggles are a good thing. Mel Tucker brought in 41 new players to his program this year, and 20 of them were transfers. If the culture or players aren’t who you want, the transfer portal makes things so easy now.
But now is the time for Nebraska to get some consistency. Why does it always feel we take a step forward then two steps back. Is this Oklahoma game going to springboard us like the one possession loss to Ohio State in 2018? Or is the Oklahoma loss just going to be the game where we look at what we could have been, but couldn’t do it on a regular basis?
If Michigan State has watched our offense at all, they know that there’s two certainties right now. First, our OL is confused, young, and still trying to find their groove. Nebraska runningbacks are averaging under 4 yards per carry, so we can’t run the ball. Secondly, they also know that our best run play is a called pass where Adrian Martinez scrambles for yards. If they make us run with our RBs, they will win this game. Because Martinez scrambling and our passing game is what they will try and shut down.
So here is what Sparty will try to do to confuse our OL. First, they will try to line a bunch of guys on the line of scrimmage to make our OL call out the wrong blocking scheme:
But, if any of you are members over at Rivals, they post the PFF grades for players, and a couple of our OL scored 0.0 for pass protection grades against Oklahoma. So they may try and do some other twisting/stunts/blitzes for a couple reasons. First, they will twist and turn to try and get us to mess up “passing off the defender” like what happened in Norman. Watch 75 just ride his man down to the center without passing him off to get the looping blitzer:
Michigan State has those twists/blitzes in their arsenal:
But Michigan State just got done playing Miami, a team with a QB very similar to Nebraska. King is ok at passing like Martinez, but where he hurts you is with his legs. As I stated earlier, Sparty will more than likely take a page from Illinois and Fordhams defensive scheme and have the RBs beat them, just not Martinez. How do you do that? Here’s one where Sparty hides a corner blitz (tough to see up top with captions) and they get pressure to where King can barely escape:
But I also think we will see a lot of the delayed blitz action from Michigan State. And that’s where I think they’ll make their hay. They will have their front 4 try to create pressure by any means necessary, and then like in this video, the LB and Safety will delay coming and see where Martinez is escaping to or find a hole to get to him. Last week, Oklahoma put a spy on Martinez like you see here:
I’m not sure Sparty has someone that can spy like Oklahoma did, so they will run delayed blitzes like you see here:
Now, I understand Miami will throw a quick screen and it doesn’t matter here. But again, Michigan State is going to try and stop Martinez from running. And these delayed blitzes that Sparty ran a ton of basically makes people come at Martinez in two waves which would be extremely effective at stopping Martinez scrambles. It will be interesting if they use a spy, delayed blitzes, or twists/stunts on passing downs. My money is on some delayed blitzes like shown above.
But what will they do offensively?
Sparty has arguably the best RB in the country in transfer Ken Walker III. He is leading the country in rushing with 493 yards. But Nebraska is extremely good against the run, and this is what I was talking about with being a good matchup for us. Here is a glimpse of what you will see with Sparty. They have 6 blockers and Miami has 7 guys in the box, they don’t care and still run it as their RB makes people miss and goes for a big gain:
We need to sellout to stop that guy. So it’s going to come down to Michigan State’s QB. While he certainly does not have the athleticism Martinez does, he has some qualities that make me a bit jealous. On this play here, you see he recognizes there’s a blitz coming and he has to get the ball out quick. He’s doing playaction and has his back to the blitz, but still is smart enough to know what’s coming and the timing he needs:
But he’s also sneaky fast. Meaning he can get outside the pocket and run for the first if he needs:
I think our defense should be able to shut down what Michigan State wants to do on the ground, and that bodes well for us. How we handle their QB with our rush and secondary is what will win the game. I like our secondary against Sparty, we will see on our pass rush. I’m less confident there.
Summary/Keys for the game
As stated, I think Sparty might actually be a bit better of an overall team than Oklahoma, but we match up way better with them. I am really scared Mel Tucker is a very good coach. Remember, he was the first year coach in Boulder that was down 17-0 at half, then outscored us 31-14 in the second half taking us to overtime where they beat us and had Nebraska fans blaming it on “the altitude you can’t prepare for.”
Will we see an advantage by them again in year 2 of his program (first year was covid year)? So here’s what we look for… 1) Can we shut down the leading rusher in the country, if yes and we force them to throw, we win. 2) How does Sparty stop Adrian Martinez, if they shut him down and force our RBs to beat them, it will be a low scoring contest.
I had us losing to Sparty to begin this season, and I haven’t seen any consistency from us on the field and especially offensively/special teams (you’ve seen me basically refuse to even talk about our ST, what a dumpster fire). What I saw against Oklahoma encouraged the heck out of me, but I need to see it more than once to start believing. We need to win this game, but are we ready? I truly think our defense will be fine, we are much better than Miami on that side of the ball, but it’s up to our offense to produce when Michigan State takes away Martinez on the ground (if they do), and that’s what i’m not sure of. I’m assuming Tucker and his staff will bottle up Martinez and youngsters at WR or the RB room will be forced to make plays which i’m not confident enough in yet. I’m taking Sparty 27-24, but we match up so well with them I expect a win, i’m just going with my preseason prediction at this point.
Go Big Red!