Hail Varsity staffers Derek Peterson, Erin Sorensen and Brandon Vogel offers some final takeaways from Nebraska's win over Michigan State.
I started thinking a ton about Scott Frost’s introductory press conference on the walk back from Memorial Stadium after Saturday’s 9-6 win. If you read Greg Smith’s stuff (you should), you knew most of the visitors for Saturday’s game were defensive guys.
Greg will have plenty on what they all thought of the day later, but we got to talking about one very specific thing. Remember that, “I’m hoping the Big Ten has to adjust to us,” comment?
Frost is uber-confident in his ability to make his style work. Period. End of discussion. But no matter what he said publicly, there were detractors that said Frost couldn’t win in the Big Ten because of the way he played. When it came to a defensive fistfight, Nebraska would be out-muscled.
There’s no way recruits don’t hear that stuff. They watch ESPN, too. So maybe the lowest-scoring game the Huskers have had all season and the second-worst game the offense has had all season was actually one of the best showcases of why those kids standing on the sideline should come to Nebraska.
It showed the culture was right, but it also showed more plainly to everyone outside of Lincoln that if the offense dried up and the points came at a premium and the defense needed to get stops, Nebraska could win that way too.
“Good teams figure out how to win any kind of game, and that’s a different kind of game that I have been a part of as a coach,” Frost said. “Some of these games we’ve won, we’ve been winning on offense, and it was great to see the defense step up today.”
Michigan State hit for the same 3.7 yards per play average as Nebraska. Nebraska’s defense forced turnovers again and got stops in the red zone. In a season where the Blackshirts have searched for that complete game, they found it at the best time.
I asked senior safety Tre Neal if there was a point when the coaching staff came to the defense and said, “You need to win this for us.” He said no, but because they didn’t need to. The second Nebraska stepped on the field, Neal said, the Blackshirts knew.
“We knew this was going to be a defensive game,” he said. “We knew that when they had the wind at their backs, no touchdowns. We can manage field goals but no big plays, no chunk plays and that’s what we were going to try and go for.”
Mission accomplished. What’s that say about this team moving forward with Scott Frost at the helm?
“This is Nebraska,” guard Jerald Foster said. “Coach Frost, he knows that and he believes in that and he wants us to show ourselves what Nebraska should be, which is a tough football team every single down.”
What a season its been for senior safety Antonio Reed. Maybe it’s more appropriate to say what a career its been. Whatever the case, Reed decided Senior Day was the perfect time to play possibly the best game of his career. That included seven tackles, an interception, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Oh, and one of those forced fumbles came on a sack in the fourth quarter, allowing Nebraska to tie the game up.
What a difference a couple of months can make. Not long ago, Reed had a personal foul on Colorado’s game-winning drive in the season opener. There was also that play at Wisconsin where Reed celebrated a big hit while a Badger running back kept running by before Reed was driven into the turf by a Wisconsin offensive lineman.
Maybe it’s not even what a difference a couple of months makes. Maybe it’s a matter of seasons. Former Nebraska defensive back Chris Jones was all about Reed’s performance against Michigan State, saying the Huskers could have used that in 2017.
And as the game went on, Jones got more and more excited for Reed.
It’s hard to say what inspired Reed. Maybe it was Senior Day and the final matchup in Memorial Stadium for the season. Whatever it was, the safety without a Blackshirt played like he’s had one all along.
It wouldn’t be surprising if he has one come Monday either.
I was wrong all week. This isn’t unusual. You do the best you can to break down a game, but once it actually starts almost anything can happen. I thought all week that, in a matchup of the two teams’ biggest strengths, Nebraska would win. The Huskers would find a way to run the ball, I thought, and Adrian Martinez would be the key.
That never fully transpired. Martinez rushed seven times for 18 yards, and that included a 17-yard run early in the game. Just the threat of Martinez in the run game, I thought, would give Devine Ozigbo some room. He eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season, but was held in check (at least relative to his recent run of success).
Credit to the Spartans’ run defense, with an assist from the weather. ”I kind of thought going into the game it’d be a throw-to-run game, not a run-to-throw game, just because of their style,” Scott Frost said after the game. Throwing wasn’t much of an option for either team on Saturday.
On the day before the game I looked at the somewhat odd history between these two teams. Michigan State almost always brings a stout run defense to the party, and Nebraska, in most years, brings a pretty good offense. There haven’t been a lot of stalemates over the years in that particular matchup.
Saturday’s was one. Nebraska averaged 3.4 yards per carry, which is actually above average against the Spartans. But Michigan State kept that run game pinned in. Both teams probably should feel as though they did enough to win. If you had told me that the score would be 9-6 in this game, there’s almost no way I would’ve said Nebraska would’ve been on top.
That it was the Huskers on the winning end says a lot. It says a lot about both teams and a great, if not always aesthetically appealing, football game.