Munson's Thoughts: Michigan State

Even when Nebraska lost to Wisconsin in their Big Ten opener there was a big opportunity to get into the Championship Game for a rematch. Nebraska just needed to win and it wouldn't have hurt to have some teams beat themselves, but that hasn't happened. Huskers get ready to host the "leader" in the Legends Division this weekend, Michigan State.

There is no such thing as an unimportant game…that's why they play them all. The game Saturday between Nebraska and Michigan State is definitely an important game though. In fact, the game Saturday might have become the most important game overall for Nebraska on the schedule.

Some predicted it, the Michigan State win against Wisconsin, but I have to admit that before the game that I couldn't even phantom it. The team in Madison that Nebraska squared off against, to me, was National Championship caliber. Russell Wilson, in my mind, was the Heisman Trophy winner.

What I saw the week before though between Michigan and Michigan State only proved one thing and that was that the Legends Division door was wide open. Nebraska can't afford an opportunity like this slip by. A conference championship game appearance in Nebraska's first year in the Big Ten is a big deal.

Before anyone goes buying their tickets for Indianapolis though Nebraska will have to take care of the Spartans on Saturday. Here are some storylines that I will be following during the game:

1. Huskers ability to move the ball - The Huskers are second in the Big Ten in total offense while the Spartans are first in total defense. Nebraska is number one in rushing offense while Michigan State is number one in rushing defense. Nebraska is going to have to really mix it up and prepare for Taylor Martinez to get blitzed over and over again. Nebraska needs to show some new wrinkles on top of going back to the reverse they ran against Minnesota and get the screen passes going that they also unveiled against Minnesota. Most of all Nebraska must be able to run the football right at Michigan State with good push up front.


Cousins has been cool in the pocket this year
2. Make Cousins uncomfortable - Kirk Cousins isn't necessarily a great quarterback, but he's a great leader and doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He's a great ballplayer. I liken him to a guy like Trent Dilfer. Dilfer wasn't a bad player, but he was pretty limited at what he could do. All he needed to do was distribute the ball and not make mistakes and bad decisions. Nebraska will have to mix it up and get pressure on Cousins. The preference here isn't pressure from the side where he can just step up, but pressure from the middle where he has to break the pocket.

3. Taking away Cousin's top WR targets - I have seen enough from Jean Stanley-Baptiste to think that he is capable of being able to be put out on an island and turn him loose. Obviously Alfonzo Dennard can do that. If Nebraska can enjoy that "freedom" on defense it will allow for the defensive staff mix things up when it comes to blitz packages and rotating personnel along the defensive line. There is going to be an increasing need to figure out ways to find answers for missing Jared Crick and also Thad Randle who will miss the game this Saturday due to injury.

These are the facts: Nebraska must make Cousin's uncomfortable when he has to pass, Nebraska has to mix it up on offense and keep the front seven of Michigan State thinking, Nebraska has to prove that they have the speed to the edges of the defense and run outside, Nebraska must also make an effort to get good push on the offensive line and challenge the Michigan State front seven with running right at them.

Seem pretty simple? No way. I don't think that this group from Lansing is more talented individually than the front seven that Ohio State had when they visited Lincoln. However, the Michigan State group plays better as a unit. They are well coached, but as seen in the Michigan game with Williams Gholsten he can get frustrated and get taken out of the game.

Is this a must win for Nebraska? It's kind of looking that way. From here on out for Michigan State it's Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern. There isn't a lot standing in their way from running the table. Granted, that all of the remaining games are on the road except for Minnesota and Northwestern is no slouch, but Iowa isn't what they were thought to be and Michigan State just knocked off Wisconsin.

Nebraska isn't going to get a lot of chances to take advantage of Michigan State errors like costly turnovers. Michigan State is +3 on the season while Nebraska is +0. When the opportunity presents itself it's going to be necessary to capitalize. That being said, this game is in Lincoln. I think that Nebraska is going to show some things offensively that give them an edge against as stout of a defense as they will see all year. Still, I see a Nebraska win. Give me the Huskers 31-24.


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