Nebraska Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Michigan State Game
I have a suggestion for a new motivational strategy for Bo Pelini. Before the game starts, just spot the opposing team two touchdowns. Seems to work like a charm.
For the third game this year, Nebraska overcame a double-digit second-half deficit, this time knocking off Michigan State in East Lansing 28-24 on a touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez to Jamal Turner with six seconds left.
In a game where it appeared more than once that Nebraska was destined to lose (and which bore eerie similarities to the officiating during Nebraska's last visit to College Station), once again, this year's NU squad showed the intestinal fortitude to stay alive and outlast the competition.
It's not entirely certain if the collective stomach of the Children of the Corn can take much more, however.
So, let's take a look at each of the starters and see how they performed, to get a better idea of what happened on Saturday. As always, the grades will be in a soccer-style 1-10 system.
Brent Qvale (LT) - 7: Qvale was part of an offensive line that paved the way for Nebraska to gain 313 total yards rushing against what will likely be the best defense NU will face all year. He also helped keep Taylor Martinez upright, helping to hold Michigan State to two sacks.
Seung Hoong Choi (LG) - 6: Choi, like the rest of the line, performed admirably on the road against a ferocious Spartans defense and was crucial in Nebraska's final drive for victory.
Justin Jackson (C) - 6: Jackson was much better in East Lansing than he had been in previous games, getting shotgun snaps on target, minimizing fumble risks and helping to keep Nebraska's offense on target.
Spencer Long (RG) - 6: Long struggled some on the right side, but ultimately did the job in moving Michigan State's defensive line when needed and creating space for Nebraska's offense to operate.
Jeremiah Sirles (RT) - 6: Sirles split time with Andrew Rodriguez, and it was when Rodriguez was on the field that Nebraska had more struggles with penalties. In Sirles' case, a good grade can be based as much as what happened when he wasn't on the field.
Taylor Martinez (QB) - 7: Good grief, how do you score that performance? Let's start with the bad. Martinez early in the game was shaky throwing the football, making poor decisions and reverting to poor mechanics which resulted in three interceptions. Those plays, in and of themselves, were enough to lose the game for Nebraska, and would have, if the Spartans did not commit a penalty on the interception return for Martinez's third pick.
But without Martinez's offensive performance throughout the game, and particularly in the fourth quarter, Nebraska would not have had a chance to win the game. Yes, there were parts of the contest where he was awful, and those parts were more than enough to cost Nebraska a win.
But he didn't. Martinez ended the game with 205 yards rushing, 160 yards passing and four total touchdowns. He also masterfully led Nebraska in its game-winning drive, making a fourth-down conversion and hitting Jamal Turner on a perfectly-thrown fade to win the game.
Ameer Abdullah (RB) - 8.5: Lost in the Taylor drama was the incredible game Abdullah recorded against a top-five nationally-rated defense. Abdullah had 22 carries for 112 yards, averaging five yards per carry. He didn't score, which is the only thing keeping him from a higher rating. But it was his success early, finding creases and getting to the edge on the Spartans defense, that created the openings for Martinez to run through.
(Update - thanks to Terrance in the comments, who pointed out that Abdullah did score on a pass reception. His score was updated from 8 to 8.5 accordingly. Whoops!)
Kenny Bell (WR) - 6: For his standards, Bell had a quiet game, with five catches for 31 yards. And his ferocious downfield blocking was one of the keys to get Taylor Martinez loose and help swing the game for Nebraska. But his critical drop at the goal line in the second quarter was a turning point in the game. If Bell hauls that catch in and scores, it's entirely possible that Nebraska is able to start pulling away from Michigan State and avoid the need for last-second heroics.
Quincy Enunwa (WR) - 7: Enunwa, like Bell, was critical in blocking downfield for Nebraska's running game. But, like Bell, Enunwa was held in check, gaining only 37 yards on three receptions. But the catches he made were important to help Nebraska stay alive and make another at-the-death comeback.
Ben Cotton (TE) - 5: Cotton was relatively anonymous against Michigan State, with only one catch for six yards. He did his job admirably as a blocker and did not contribute any mistakes that moved Nebraska backwards.
Kyler Reed (TE) - 6: Reed had two catches for 41 yards. But it was his fourth-down grab to help keep Nebraska's drive alive that was one of the crucial plays of the fourth quarter.
Eric Martin (DE) - 7: Caveman was back with a vengeance in East Lansing. Coming off the edge, he was the driving force putting pressure on Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell. He recorded one of Nebraska's three sacks, had two quarterback hurries and made eight total tackles.
Cameron Meredith (DE) - 6: In returning to his normal role at defensive end, Meredith produced a solid performance. He assisted in two tackles and got back to pressuring the opposing quarterback, logging two quarterback hurries.
Jason Ankrah (DT) - 5: Another in a line of experiments for Nebraska to address depth at defensive tackle, Ankrah was moved inside. He was anonymous on the statistics sheet, assisting in one tackle.
Baker Steinkuhler (DT) - 6: Steinkuhler, like Ankrah, had a quiet day on the stat sheet, assisting in two tackles. He had one quarterback hurry as well.
Sean Fisher (BUCK) - 6: The redemption of Fisher continues. After being left for dead by most fans after attempting to come back from a season-ending broken leg, Fisher has worked himself back into the starting lineup when Nebraska goes to three linebacker sets. He performed admirably in East Lansing with six total tackles and a pass breakup.
Will Compton (MLB) - 7: Compton has matured into a leader for the Blackshirts and came up strong against Michigan State. He had 11 total tackles and a fumble recovery.
Alonzo Whaley (WLB) - 5: Another player Nebraska fans have written off at some points, Whaley returned against an opponent suited to his strengths and had a solid game. He assisted in five tackles and had half of a tackle for loss.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB) - 5: Jean-Baptiste (and yes, we all now know it is pronounced "Gene-Baptiste") has clearly locked down a starting cornerback position. Unfortunately, he did not have his strongest performance against Michigan State. He was in position to either intercept or deflect Andrew Maxwell's long pass to Tony Lippett, and that score swung momentum in Michigan State's favor for much of the rest of the game.
Andrew Green (CB) - 6: Green had a solid, if not spectacular, performance against the Spartans. He had one pass breakup and made six total tackles.
P.J. Smith (S) - 7: Smith was Nebraska's leading tackler for the game, making 12 total stops. He also had one-and-a-half tackle for loss and one pass breakup. Instances of poor tackling throughout the game kept his score from being higher.
Daimion Stafford (S) - 7: If you wore No. 3 for Nebraska, you were very difficult to score for Saturday's game. Stafford's numbers were excellent, with 11 total tackles and a forced fumble. He was called for the late hit that gave Michigan State a new set of downs, which was cashed in for a touchdown, but Stafford was clearly pushed into the ball-carrier out of bounds by a Spartan. But Stafford did struggle with tackling technique, particularly earlier in the game, which allowed Michigan State's offense to get a foothold.
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