Drawing it up before the game, what Nebraska did against Michigan State last night hit it almost to a tee. Nebraska even went above and beyond what they normally did against quality teams during the year, prolific on offense as well. It was a day for all-around performances, top to bottom as Nebraska beat Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl, 17-3.
The talk between Michigan State players and Nebraska players made most of the headlines before the bowl game began. After it was all said and done, it was the team that talked less that took the victory in the end. "They were talking all game long." quarterback, Jammal Lord said of the Spartan defensive. "They sure weren't playing football."
The Spartans sporting a prolific passing attack and a defense that proved noteworthy against the run, could neither pass with any great degree of success and against the run, Cory Ross answered that question with a team record 37 carries for a career-high 138 yards, scoring two touchdowns.
Not to be completely outdone however, Jammal Lord didn't impress with his statistics, completing just 8 of 18 passes for 160 yards, but not touchdowns, however, some key passes at key times, plus not turning the ball over to the Spartans once via either a fumble or turnover set the pace for the Husker offense last night.
Coming into the game, everyone knew that the Nebraska defense would show up. Tops in the country in pass efficiency defense, best in turnover margin, the "blackshirts" were infamous or to their opponents, notorious might be a better word.
The offense though, could they sustain drives, could they move the ball on the ground against a robust Michigan defense and most of all, could they not hurt themselves at key points in drives and the game?
The resounding answer was, yes.
The NU offense managed 4 drives of 8 plays or more, one drive a physically dominating 16 plays, chewing up almost 8 minutes of the clock. Ironically enough, NU did most of their scoring on the drives that were decidedly shorter, the 2 touchdowns coming on one drive that lasted just over 2 minutes, taking a total of 3 plays to get in and the other, also 3 plays, but much quicker, not even 50 seconds elapsing before Nebraska was into the end zone.
True to the template of what has gotten most of NU's success this year, Nebraska didn't turn the ball over, but when it came to Michigan State's offense, they weren't nearly as fortunate. The normally very accurate Jeff Smoker was picked 3 times in the contest, Nebraska's 10th straight game with 2 or more picks in the contest. And Smoker himself was sacked 5 times, 2 of those coming in the first 3 plays of the game, compliments of senior rush end, Trevor Johnson.
One of the key's to Nebraska's early success and the pervasive pursuit on the Spartan QB throughout the entire contest was something that NU wasn't completely accustomed to this season. The front four of Nebraska was able to pressure Smoker almost consistently, allowing Nebraska to play shallow to defend what would be a plethora of screen attempts by State. Interim head coach, Bo Pelini talked about what kind of factor the front four had in this game. "I knew going in that a big key was getting pressure with a four-man rush." he said. "(that) Allowed us to play back and play coverage."
"They got behind us a couple of times, but they didn't make the plays."
In respect to those plays, Nebraska had 71 total offensive snaps to Michigan State's 62, however, the Spartan offense was held to 3 & outs 5 times, punted 8 times, was intercepted 3 times and after the field goal early on in the game, was pointless literally and figuratively as well. "I'm proud of our guys." coach Pelini stated. "Amid all the distractions, amid everything going on trying to pull this team apart, we didn't let that happen."
Following such a convincing victory over a major-conference opponent, the confidence towards the Huskers is riding high. For Bo Pelini and his staff, the time is now to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but the obvious question is, for how long.
Many of the questions extended towards coach Pelini following the victory were about his future, this game and how it might have possibly ensured a continuing future and of course, what did he think about the possible ramifications behind his team's victory in this game.
Pelini as he has always been, shrugged a bit and gave a typically short and to the point answer. "It's about competing." he stated. "I came here with one goal in mind and that was to win the football game and that is what we did."
As to his future plans, Pelini had an equally concise response. "I go and enjoy my family, enjoy my friends and enjoy this win." he stated. "That's what I am going to do and those are my plans."
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619