Rapid Reaction: Cornhuskers Roll Over Spartans in Defensive Battle

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Rex Burkhead carried the ball 35 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns, and the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ defense held the Michigan State Spartans to only 187 total yards of offense on Saturday, both of which were huge factors in the Huskers’ 24-3 dismantling of a Spartan team that had been rolling coming into the game in Lincoln.

Those Spartans, who until today had ripped off a streak of victories that included a road victory over Ohio State and dealing first defeats to Big Ten Legends Division rivals Michigan and Wisconsin, looked completely lost against the Nebraska defense, who harassed them all over the field and made it look all too easy to stop quarterback Kirk Cousins. He ended up only completing 11 out of 27 passes for 86 yards, and he failed in several key situations that could have made it a closer game for the Spartans. His offense only ended up 3-of-14 in third down conversions as well.

The biggest key to Nebraska’s defensive domination of the contest was their ability to stop the deep threat. There were so many instances in the game of Cousins trying to go deep, and on just about every one of those throws the Huskers had a safety and a corner double-teaming his intended receiver. These types of forced throws are usually a recipe for disaster against a secondary that tenacious, and it was as the Huskers nearly picked off several passes and did get him on the first drive for an interception.

Penalties were also cruel to the Spartans in this one, with nine of them for 90 yards going against Michigan State. One of those was a phantom call where a pass interference flag was thrown although the ball wasn’t catchable (it nearly happened again later on against the Huskers, but the officials wisely changed it to a holding call after calling it PI), but these penalties allowed Nebraska to march down the field and score with comparative ease, something they didn’t need much help doing this afternoon.

About the only positive that the Spartan offense could take from this game was that Le’Veon Bell managed a respectable 4.8 yards per carry en route to 58 yards on the ground.

As for Nebraska, they relied on that defense, but they also had some good performances from their offense. Their rushing attack accounted for nearly 200 yards in the game, and 130 of those came from Burkhead’s incredible performance. In addition to the two touchdowns, Burkhead also had a great catch for a 27-yard touchdown with only 20 seconds left in the third quarter to seal the game for the Huskers.

The Huskers also got a solid game out of quarterback Taylor Martinez, who completed seven passes for 80 yards and one touchdown, all of which came in the second half. It wasn’t his most spectacular game by any stretch, but he did take what the Spartans gave him in this game, and that’s what it really boiled down to for Nebraska.

The game’s result also threw the outcome of the Legends Division into a state of flux, as the Spartans missed an opportunity to put a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game in a chokehold. It is now a three-way tie atop the division with Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska all with a 3-1 record. The Spartans did beat the Wolverines, so if Michigan ends up beating Nebraska, it could come down to overall record to decide who will play in Indianapolis on December 3rd.

Nebraska will next take the field next Saturday when they host the Northwestern Wildcats. Meanwhile, the Spartans will lick their wounds and prepare to face Minnesota next Saturday in East Lansing.

 

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