Remember the Northwestern game back on Oct. 13? Most fans will want to forget (if they haven’t already) but offensive coordinator Troy Walters remembers it.
He remembers his offense getting the ball with 2:26 left in the game, up seven and looking to bleed clock for the Huskers’ first win of the season. He remembers getting stuffed for no gain on first down, then stuffed again for no gain on second down, then getting 3 yards on third down. He remembers having to punt the ball back to the Wildcats after just 24 seconds of game clock.
He remembers watching what happened next.
So you can be certain Walters was thinking about that Northwestern close as Nebraska was trying to close out Michigan State last Saturday. Nebraska got the football back, up three, with 1:55 to play.
Senior back Devine Ozigbo ran over left tackle for five yards, drawing MSU’s final timeout and setting up a second-and-5. A first down would ice it. Ozigbo needed 5. He got 8.
“For us to go and get that first down on that last possession was big,” Walters said Monday when he met with the media. “And we did it running the ball. They had the No. 1 ranked rushing defense in the country. Hats off to the offensive line blocking, then Devine hitting the hole and getting that first down and sealing the game. We’ve come a long way since Northwestern and it showed right there on that play.”
In a lot of ways, the Northwestern game prepared Nebraska a little bit more for the Michigan State finish. And as Walters prepares for the Iowa Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten), he’s drawing a ton from the Michigan State game.
“The Michigan State game will really prepare us for this game. Looking forward to it,” Walters said. The Hawkeyes aren’t at the Spartans level in terms of run-stopping — MSU’s run defense ranks second nationally by S&P+ while Iowa’s ranks 25th — but the two schools are No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten both in yards per carry allowed and touchdowns surrendered.
“Very stout up front,” Walters said. “They’re aggressive, active, they really want to create pressure with four guys. Then on the backend, they’re very sound. So they don’t do a lot, but what they do, they do very well. They play together. The one thing that impresses me about their defense is they know what the opposing team is trying to do. They really study your plays and the run game and they’re communicating well. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
They don’t do a lot, but what they do they do well. Nebraska said the same about the Spartans last week. Not a ton of coverage disguising or misdirection going on, just a defense that knows it’s a heavy-hitter and plays like it.
The Hawkeyes are coming off a 63-0 shutout win over Illinois last week. That defense has a lot to feel good about.
The similarities, then, are particularly beneficial given the shortened week. Walters is taking the optimist approach.
“I’m excited. I like shorter weeks because you get to play sooner and our guys are at a point on offense where we know what we’re doing,” Walters said. “We know the plays, we know the system. Those guys are fired up. We’ve had a good week of practice so far. Tomorrow will be more of a walk-through, make sure our bodies are right so we can go and play a good game against Iowa.”
Other News and Notes
>> Walters said wideout JD Spielman remains day-to-day.
“He’s been limited,” Walters said. “We’ll just wait and see. He’s day-to-day so we’re hoping to have him but if we don’t then we’ll go with the same guys we played with against Michigan State.”
Spielman didn’t play against the Spartans last Saturday. In his place, Nebraska went with a by-committee approach with Kade Warner, Bryan Reimers and Mike Williams.
>> Quarterback coach Mario Verduzco said sophomore quarterback Noah Vedral likely won’t play in the season finale against Iowa. Verduzco didn’t really get into what is bothering Vedral but there is an injury Nebraska won’t force him to play through for backup duty in the last game of the season. Sophomore Andrew Bunch will take over as the primary backup for Adrian Martinez.
>> Running backs coach Ryan Held said weather conditions change nothing in his room; his backs don’t wear sleeves. They need to be able to feel the ball on their arms.
>> Head coach Scott Frost said Monday he thought Martinez played one of his better games of the season. Though the numbers don’t say the same (16-for-37, 163 total yards, no scores, one turnover), Verduzco said the same thing. It comes down to Martinez not getting frustrated throughout the game and not forcing things.
Verduzco said Martinez was upset with his performance after the game but he reminded the freshman quarterback it’s not about winning the game in conditions like that, it’s about not losing it. Verduzco thought Martinez tried to push things early then settled down in the second half.
>> Speaking of the weather, Walters said Saturday’s snowy finish was “awesome.”
“For us to win a championship here, you’re going to have to play in those conditions,” he said. “You’re going to have to play in the cold, play in the wind, rain, to win a championship. I thought [Martinez] handled it well, I thought our guys on offense handled it well.
“Was it our best performance? No. But the guys battled, they never gave up and when the opportunity came, they made plays. We told them that in order to win a championship, they’re going to have to play on the road in hostile environments and bad weather conditions and you’ve got to find a way to win and that’s what we did.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.