Michigan State at Nebraska - GAME PREDICTION AND MORE

Michigan State at Nebraska - GAME PREDICTION AND MORE

Columnists

Michigan State at Nebraska - GAME PREDICTION AND MORE

Michigan State (6-4, 4-3) travels to Lincoln for a potentially season-defining game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-7, 2-5).  Can Michigan State find the energy in the tank to go along with an ability to deliver some offensive firepower that can put the Spartans in position to finish the regular season at 8-4?

Contact @crowleysullivan

When Brian Lewerke and the Spartans took possession of the ball at their own 24 yard line with 1:10 to play against Penn State in Happy Valley back in October, Michigan State trailed 17-14 and the season appeared to hang in the balance.

The Spartan defense had managed to lock up Trace McSorley and the entire Penn State offense for most of the afternoon and had allowed Michigan State to be in a position to pull out another magical win that would compare favorably to so many others over the last decade.

Lewerke led the Spartans on an 8-play, 76-yard drive and found Felton Davis in the endzone with 19 seconds left to play.

The drive was quintessential guts and guile from a program that has fought tooth and nail for years to continue to demonstrate that it’s at its best when it has its back up to the wall.

Michigan State’s 21-17 victory that afternoon at Penn State – the #8 team in the nation at the time and currently #14 in the College Football Rankings – appeared to rejuvenate a team that had just lost in ugly fashion to Northwestern at Spartan Stadium.

Northwestern has proven to be a pretty good football team and will have a chance to win the Big Ten Championship when they play in the conference title game in Indianapolis in a few weeks.

But the victory over Penn State sure does seem like a lifetime ago.

After taking the punch to the gut from Michigan, Michigan State fought hard to put some wins together when nobody thought it was possible and most people were predicting a repeat of the 2016 unraveling.

The 23-13 win over Purdue and the 24-3 victory over Maryland indicated that the 2018 team was alive and kicking and even had a shot at another double-digit win season and a possible path to the Rose Bowl.

At the end of the 3rd quarter against #10 Ohio State, Michigan State, despite another ugly offensive performance, trailed the Buckeyes 9-6.

The offensive weaknesses led to an unraveling against the Buckeyes and by the time the sun set on East Lansing that evening, the Spartans were 6-4, 4-3 and wondering how to recapture what seems to have been lost.

This Saturday, Michigan State has a chance to, once again, rejuvenate the team with a battle with the 3-7 Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln.

Scott Frost, of course, has Nebraska Football coursing through his veins and it would be a surprise if he didn’t eventually build up his program back into the power it was when he was leading it to a shared national championship at quarterback in 1997.

He certainly didn’t expect to begin his tenure in Lincoln by getting out to a 0-6 start.

But, give Frost and the Huskers credit for showing the ability to keep fighting and working their way to a 3-1 record over the team’s last four games.

Victories over Minnesota (53-28), Bethune-Cookman (45-9), and Illinois (54-35) may not remind Husker fans of long-ago wins over Barry Switzer’s Sooners – but it’s a start.

And Nebraska’s performance at Columbus – a 36-31 loss to the Buckeyes – has to encourage Husker Nation.

Neither the Spartans nor the Huskers are fighting for a division title, of course – but this game still means plenty to each program.

Finishing strong and demonstrating toughness and a momentum for the offseason means plenty to the Huskers.

And despite all of the frustration, all of the injuries, and all of the criticism directed at a program that entered the season with the highest of expectations, Michigan State can finish the regular season with an 8-4, 6-3 mark – and a victory in a bowl game could mean a 9-4 final record.

First things, first – the Spartans have a tough test against these Huskers and being able to leave Lincoln with a 7th win is going to take a very strong performance, particularly from the Michigan State offense.

Let’s take a look at what Michigan State will be going up against.

NEBRASKA’S OFFENSE

The Huskers have a potent offense.

Passing Offense:

  • 3rd in the Big Ten.
  • 256 yards per game.
  • Average of 21 for 32 – 65%.
  • Average of 1.7 TDs per game.

Rushing Offense:

  • 4th in the Big Ten.
  • 226 yards per game.
  • Average 40 carries per game.
  • Average 5.6 yards per carry.
  • 2.4 TDs per game

Total Offense:

  • 2nd in the Big Ten.
  • 482 yards per game.
  • 32 points per game.

First Downs:

  • 24 per game.
  • 11 passing.
  • 12 rushing.
  • 1 via penalty.

Turnovers:

  • Averaging 2 turnovers per game.
  • 1 fumble per game.
  • 1 interception per game.

3rd Down Conversions:

  • 48 for 127, 38%.

All in all, Nebraska has been able to produce offensively, despite the 3-7 overall record.

The question for Michigan State appears to the same question for most of this season –

Can the defense shut down – or, at least limit – an offense that has muscle and power?

At this point, the Spartan defense has earned trust and the benefit of the doubt.

Even in the four losses, as Mark Dantonio said earlier this week, the Spartans have been in the games and could have even won all four – thanks to the defense.

High powered offenses have had to find ways to come up with big plays at the right time and even still the Spartans were in these games.

The only real questions at this point are –

What is the psychological state of this defense?

Are the leaders on the defense still locked in, focused, determined, and committed to playing as hard and as tough as they played in Happy Valley a month ago?

If the offense isn’t capable of moving the ball, will that negatively impact the defense’s ability to play hard, tough football for all four quarters?

And so, the overall question becomes –

Can the Michigan State offense find any ability to produce?

Let’s take a look at some of the dynamics related to Nebraska’s defense.

NEBRASKA’S DEFENSE

Passing Defense: 

  • Allowing 255 yards per game.
  • Allowing quarterbacks a 21 for 35 58% completion rate.
  • Giving up 1.3 TDs per game.

Rushing Defense:

  • 194 yards per game on 38 carries.
  • 5 yards per carry.
  • 2.7 TDs per game.

Total Defense:

  • Allowing 449 yards per game.
  • Allowing 34 points per game.

First Downs:

  • 11 via pass, 9 via rush, 3 via penalty for a total of 21 overall.

Turnovers:

  • Getting 1 fumble and 1 interception so their turnover ratio of a scratch.

3rd Down Conversions:

  • 60 for 143, 42%

Looking at the Huskers’ defensive performance from a broad perspective leads one to think that an offense with some firepower should be able to move the ball and find opportunities to score.

Nebraska is allowing 34 points per game.

Last week, Illinois put up 35 points on Nebraska’s defense.

Back in September, Purdue beat the Huskers 42-28.

Michigan defeated Nebraska 56-10 in Week 3 – and, not that anyone needs to be reminded, the Wolverines beat Michigan State 21-7.

All season, we’ve broken down the individual team leaders on offense and defense in our game previews.

This week, we’re looking at the broader picture and simply contemplating how a struggling Spartan offense might be able to find the ways to move the ball on the ground, convert on 3rd down, and establish a rhythm that can be sustained for four quarters.

Of course, the biggest question remains one that focuses on the quarterback position.

Earlier this week, Mark Dantonio spoke about how he wants to be mindful of a young man’s confidence, his psyche, and his positioning within a team that selected him as a captain.

Last season, Brian Lewerke accomplished great things and gave every indication that he was on a path to substantial success for him and his teammates.

His injury clearly has impacted him – physically and mentally.

Our thought is that it would be best for Lewerke and the program to give him the rest he needs in order to get back to full strength.

Hand the keys to Rocky Lombardi for these last two games of Michigan State’s regular season – but make it clear that Lewerke is the starting quarterback, that he is the leader he was when his teammates selected him as a captain, and that he and the program will benefit from him resting the shoulder.

Give Rocky Lombardi the opportunity to gain valuable experience this week and next week at home against Rutgers.

Lombardi has shown an ability to inject an energy into the offense and that may be the difference on Saturday at Lincoln between winning and losing for Michigan State.

Our game prediction for this week has to hinge on the two different possible approaches taken by Mark Dantonio.

With Lombardi as the starter:

MICHIGAN STATE – 23

NEBRASKA – 17

With Lewerke as the starter or with the two alternating at quarterback:

MICHIGAN STATE – 16

NEBRASKA – 20

Latest

More SpartansWire
Home