Well, that game played out almost exactly like we talked about in the preview. I wrote that our defense would be able to bottle up the nations leading runningback for Michigan State, and we would force their QB to throw to beat us which would end well for us on that side of the ball. I can’t be mad that our defense gave up a flea flicker TD and some fieldgoals. The key would be how our offense could respond when our defense bottled Sparty up. I picked Sparty to beat us by 3 in my preview because I thought we might get outcoached a bit and for some reason Michigan State is just in a better spot year 2 than we are year 4 of our coaches in terms of knowing how to win and discipline. While our offense didn’t play horribly, I think we pretty much know that our OL just isn’t where it needs to be and quite frankly I think it cost us the game.
What gets really tough for me is the fact that again, we will have people saying “see look how close we are. Another one score loss to a top 25 team.” I get that. And i’m one that says continuity is what is needed for Nebraska to rebuild a foundation. But what we continually gloss over is the fact that Mel Tucker has only been in East Lansing 2 years. And if we are using Nebraska fan message board logic, “Covid year doesn’t count against Frost” so does it not count for Tucker and he’s in year 1? Either way, we lost to a true first year coach in Bielema week 1, then lost to a second year coach in Tucker week 5, but we keep hearing how close we are. And compound that statement by again glossing over things like those teams getting better next year as well. It’s not like we are the only team that works on improving. If I told you in 2017 that the coach we hire will HOPEFULLY get us to a bowl game by year 4, would you be happy or would you want to look for someone else? I think this is a valid point:
That is basically a different way of what I was saying on the message board all along. Ya, I get we are showing some progress, especially defensively. But there was zero reason to not make a bowl game the first three years. If we are fighting for our first bowl berth in year 4 of a coach, there was definitely some regression. Mike Riley was 15-11 and coming off a 9 win season where we finished second in our division, and administration that has zero to do with coaching on the field forced him to fire his defensive coordinator and told his strength staff what lifts they could or couldn’t do. Conversely, Frost in his first two years here was given everything he wanted, never questioned, and went 9-15 with no bowl games. 3-5 the following year. And now sitting with zero Power 5 wins heading into week 6. I am not on the fire Frost train, but we have been massively underachieving. Moral victories in year 1 and 2 are what you build a program on. Not year 4.
It’s what I also talked about on the recruiting trail. Year 1 and 2 you can sell your vision and players will hop on board no questions asked. They want to help create your vision and culture for you. By years 3 and 4 (this is Frosts 5th recruiting class here) players want to see what you’ve been preaching and if it has come to fruition. A prominent high school coach here in Omaha openly said to the media “I tell my players if you want to commit to Nebraska, wait to see how this fall goes to make sure they back up what they are telling you or if it’s lip service.” And that’s about what every other high school coach in the nation says as well. Currently Nebraska is 79th in the nation according to Rivals, and dead last in the B1G, 11th in average star ranking. That’s not a coincidence. But enough of that, let’s get to the game.
What really frustrates me is we truly dominated that Michigan State. Heck, look at this stat:
Quite honestly, Mel Tucker did to us what Husker fans believed Scott Frost was bringing to the table back in 2017 when he was hired. We thought Frost could get us to about .500 first year, but his scheming/playcalling would get us a game or two where we were outplayed or had “lesser” football players than the other team, but he made the right calls and won us a game we shouldn’t have to get us to 7 wins or so in 2018. Michigan State had 2 touchdowns on the day. A fucking flea flicker because they couldn’t run against us at all, and a trick play on special teams called by a special teams coordinator that graduated from Lincoln Northeast.
That is unbelievably convenient that a guy that grew up 10 minutes from 10th and Vine called the special teams play to tie the game against us while our special teams rank as this:
Kick Return Defense (96th), Kick Returns (115th), Punt Returns (120th), Punt Return Defense (130th), Net Punting (128th).
That’s gotta be the worst in the country. And honestly, if we are still in year 1 and year 2 i’m completely fine with this game. But we are in year 4. I searched “Nebraska close” and went back to 2018. Let me know if any of this sounds familiar:
I don’t want to belabor this, but how we are feeling after this Michigan State year 4 game, is exactly what our fanbase was feeling after games in 2018. So what’s real for us? How we move forward from here is what will tell me if we are turning a corner. I said Sparty could be better than Oklahoma, and not much changed that for me after Saturday. But we gotta figure out how to not lose games we should win, and steal another one.
The Nebraska defense freaking stonewalled the Spartan rushing attack all night. You’ll see with this play, Tannor is the unblocked man and he does a great job of seeing the jet sweep and pursuing to the ball. But take a careful look here, if not for Cam Taylor-Britt and Deontai Williams making the play (like all night), this one goes a long ways as our playside ILB gets pancaked:
Guys like Garrett Nelson, Caleb Tannor, and our young ILBs of Henrich and Reimer have really came along and made it so we can lean on them against rushing teams. Ruud and Dawson have done remarkable jobs while Tuioti and Fisher are able to lean on their veterans to play lights out. I wasn’t complaining about DBs helping in the run game, more pointing out what Michigan State was probably noticing. Chinander wasn’t going to let their RB beat us. It was a masterful gameplan by him and his staff executed by his defense.
But as I stated earlier, Tucker and his staff knew exactly how to attack the defense that was smashing their ground game all night. Make us think they are running, then pitch it back to throw with a flea flicker. Newsome on the bottom has to help fit in the run game, and quite honestly we aren’t in trouble except for the fact that Farmer stands a little flat footed and gets ran by.
Sorry for the tweet in espanol just wanted to use the video. I will be curious to see what Northwestern does. If you go to that play where we stop them two tweets up, the tackle to the bottom side for Michigan State goes down to help on the double team and that stutter step makes it so he can’t get up to Reimer. So the person he was supposed to block outruns him and gets picked up by someone else. Northwestern will probably block this like outside zone and have more success.
But we also saw our OL struggle a bit.
Here is a bit what I talked about in my pregame write-up. Sparty comes with not a delay blitz, but a corner/nickel pressure and actually has their LB spy Martinez. The blitzer misses, then the spy misses, and Martinez is off to the races.
But here’s where I got a bit frustrated watching this game. You have Manning and Betts out there. And in this play, we have the numbers advantage in the box. 6 blockers vs 6 defenders, so if we win our battles this should be a higher gain. But we are handing off to 32… again not trying to go negative here, but just throw a fade in the endzone to one of those guys if we are handing off to someone other than Johnson or Stepp:
Let’s 180 this to positive and go back to something i’ve been saying the past three seasons on the site that kicked me off. TE is a position you had veteran talent that the NFL likes with guys like Stoll and now Allen/Vokolek. If your OL is struggling, freaking put two TEs in to help. Frost/Lubick started doing that, and we all of a sudden could break some runs with extra blockers to help our struggling OL. And our first TD may have helped pave the way to grind the clock in the second half and get the running game going:
Now, our RB would have been stuffed, but Martinez had quite the alley with Allen washing his guy out and Vokolek getting his block helping Corcoran get all the way up to backside safety.
So while we are at it… let’s give some props to Rahmir Johnson. He’s slowly asserting himself like Devine Ozigbo did in 2018. Damon Benning made a great comment that “Johnson needs the least to go right to be good.” What he means, is a guy like Stepp really needs the OL to get their blocks to be effective for us. Johnson has the ability to wiggle and make some guys miss when things aren’t going right. Not that this is about running, but when your OL is responsible for 7 sacks and 18 hurries (25 total), they aren’t very good and you need someone who can make something happen. Michigan State brought 4 guys or less on every play defensively except 4 and Martinez had pressure on 25 throws. That’s a real stat and freaking maddening. So i’ll just continue with something else that bothers me…
I also have seen a lot of mention of things like this for why we needed to get rid of guys like Wan’Dale Robinson:
I guess I just don’t follow the logic here. We needed taller receivers to complete these kinds of passes?
Umm…. that’s a really big window in the cleanest pocket you’ll ever get. Take another example from our game this past weekend. I don’t like to blow players up too much, but he’s a four year starter we need better from in the passing game. I understand there was pressure, but this happened all night. Austin Allen is 6’9″ and we are not hitting this pass that is wide open. Needing taller WRs isn’t the issue, just imagine if we could have had Robinson to go along with Toure, Manning, Betts… Wan’dale is currently the leading WR in the SEC.
What was really disheartening though was the end of the fourth quarter and overtime. Michigan State completes a 9 yard pass on 3rd and 10 so they are short. Frost calls a timeout to get the ball back for our offense. I’m thinking this is great, we are going to try and get in fieldgoal range. There’s 55 seconds left and they are punting the ball to us from their own 34. Then we end up having the ball with 27 seconds left, two timeouts, and on our 36, get sacked and we just go to OT keeping the timeouts in our pocket. I hated that, but I get Frost got worried with our OL. What compounded my frustration though with that decision is if your OL made it so you were scared to continue to try and score in regulation, why on earth did we go three straight passes in overtime instead of inserting two TEs to run? The third pass ended in an INT and essentially solidified the game. I think that is the epitome of what we’ve seen the last 4 seasons. We outthought the room there. Run the ball at least once, get the fieldgoal. Then force Michigan State who only had 14 yards in the 2nd half to try and score from the 25 on your defense. The INT took the wind out of our sails and cost us in my opinion. Tough way to lose.
I don’t want to dive too much into special teams as I said our stats and that’s all that’s really needed at this point, so we can just move on.
Where do we go from here?
I said before the season in my preview, I saw us at 6-6. While I predicted we’d lose to Sparty, that included a win over Illinois to start the year. We are now 2-3 and have 7 games left to find 4 wins to get to a bowl. Northwestern, Purdue, and Minnesota are essentially must win games now. That means you have to find one more between Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin. A friend said it best “no one left on our schedule scares me, but they don’t have to beat us since we find ways to beat ourselves.” As a Husker fan I spent every season this century explaining why Northwestern and the other games are winnable. “Did you see how bad Mertz is, Bucky looks beatable.” “Ohio State almost lost to Tulsa!” “Iowa let Colorado State hang around, we are better than the Rams.” And the same friend finally goes “what do you think the other teams say about Nebraska to convince them of a win coming their way?” Ugh.
But this is where the rubber meets the road. Any chance at getting to a bowl game means you have to win at home against Northwestern. And I think we will. The over/under is probably going to be in the freaking 40s. ESPNs FPI currently has us as favorites to win three more games this year with Wisconsin and Iowa as toss-ups.
Captain obvious here, but you have to take down Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald always plays Nebraska tough. I’ll have my preview up later this week, but this becomes an even more important game for Nebraska to get to a bowl. A must win. I had us winning it before the season, nothing has changed my mind there.
Had a few people ask about changes with the staff and if you can do them immediately. I don’t think you can with OL right away, that’s too big of a change. Something like that would have to wait until the end of the season. But something like Verdu going to analyst and moving Busch to full-time special teams while Frost handles QB coaching could happen. The issue is it takes Frost away from CEO roles where he can focus on the areas that are struggling since he has a coach for every position. But I think special teams have been so bad that you almost have to do something drastic. I doubt midseason anything happens like this, but I would think about making a move if i’m Frost based on those stats I just laid out. I also believe Busch being here as an analyst is a bit of a trial run to see how they all mesh together. You also have a safety net in case Fisher bolts, as Busch is an unreal recruiter and coaches secondary as well.
Food for thought
Had someone bring up an interesting point to me Saturday night while super hammered. We are basically evolving into 2 TE and even 3 TE sets against Oklahoma to try and overpower people. All the while that wasn’t what we were recruiting towards, our guys are just better at that. “If that’s the direction we are going, 2 and 3 TEs to help block people and get our offense going, is Frost the guy to do it? We don’t have Jordan Akins at TE, we are moving Prochazka there for games.” That is real interesting to me to just think about where we are now compared to where we were when he was hired. Everyone thought fast-paced and even had the debate of if that offense could work in the B1G. Remember this statement:
What’s actually happening is we are having to adjust what we do to be effective in the B1G, and I believe it’s a big reason why we are so far behind the schedule we thought would happen in 2017.
I don’t expect Alberts to make a move unless we are 4-8 or worse. I’ll say it again, I don’t expect a move to be made. But just typing out loud for everyone, this would be the year to do it. Martinez going to be moving on so new staff could break in a new QB they want, and there is no recruiting class to save like there was when we let Riley go. Nebraska is currently 79th in the country according to Rivals and dead last in the B1G. It will be a smaller class anyway, with only 8 guys committed. When we let Riley go midway through year 3, we had guys like Mario Goodrich committed and Micah Parsons silently committed. We have nowhere near that kind of star power in the mix right now midway through year 4.
Again, not saying Alberts makes that move, but if he was going to, after this year makes a lot of sense. You just have to come up with the 20 million dollar buyout if you do it (luckily the contract he restructured is only 2.5 million per year final 2 years).