Michigan State vs. Nebraska: 5 Things We Learned About Spartans in the Loss
The Michigan State Spartans have just lost their first battle against Nebraska as a conference foe, 24-3. The Spartans were unable to keep the momentum going a week after one of the most thrilling victories in team history, a Hail Mary victory over Wisconsin.
The Spartans suffered their first conference loss of the season on the heels of their most putrid offensive performance in recent memory. The three points scored by the Spartans was their lowest point total since the 2003 Alamo Bowl, where Michigan State ironically lost to Nebraska 17-3. On this day, the offense gained just 187 total yards and went just 3-of-14 on third down.
Despite the excitement over the Wisconsin game last Saturday, today's game had far bigger implications for the Spartans coming in, as both teams are in the Legends Division and are directly competing for a place in the Big Ten Championship Game. After Nebraska laid the wood on the Spartans, we learned even more about Michigan State today then we did last week.
No. 1: Michigan State Should Request a Bye on Halloween Next Year
Halloween Weekend has not been kind to the Spartans over the past three seasons. In each of those years, Michigan State has gone on the road for a Big Ten battle, and come out scared straight on the other side.
In 2009, the Spartans faced off with Minnesota in a game which saw Gophers QB Adam Weber throw for 416 yards and five touchdowns in route to a 42-34 victory over Sparty.
Last season, the Spartans came into their game in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes with an unblemished 8-0 record. Fans in East Lansing were beginning to think about not only the possibility of competing for a Big Ten Championship, but a National Championship as well.
Iowa made sure to end those dreams early in the first half. The Hawkeyes sprinted out to a 30-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 37-6 victory.
And then of course today, with everything on the line, the Spartans came out spooked on the road yet again. Nebraska weathered the Michigan State attack in the first half, and then asserted its own dominance after the break before kneeling on a 24-3 win.
If the Spartans can't get that bye week next Halloween, perhaps they can request a home game.
No. 2: Kirk Cousins Played the Worst Game of His Career
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And it could not have come at a worse time. After playing nearly flawless against Wisconsin last week, Cousins seemed out of sync the entire game against Nebraska. Cousins threw a costly interception early in the game, which led to the first points, a touchdown by Nebraska. Cousins routinely held on to the ball too long, absorbing multiple hits and four sacks.
He finished the game by setting career lows in completion percentage (41 percent) and passing yards (86). While Nebraska's defense has been solid this year, they had given up at least 14 points to every FBS school they had played before today. For a Michigan State squad that had been getting national publicity all week after last week's victory over Wisconsin, there is no excuse for today's offensive stink-bomb.
And the responsibility for that rests squarely on the shoulders of Cousins.
No. 3: B.J. Cunningham Is the MVS (Most Valuable Spartan)
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Coming into today's game, B.J. Cunningham (the Spartans all-time leader in receptions) had 48 receptions for 723 yards and three touchdowns on the season. After the loss to Nebraska, Cunningham now has 48 receptions for 723 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
That is not a typo. Cunningham did not catch one pass on the day. Although he was target several times (the first few being on deep routes into double and triple coverage), the Spartans human-highlight reel was never able to make a play, and the offense suffered dearly for it.
While Le'Veon Bell is a power runner and Keshawn Martin can make you miss in the open field, the offense this season seems to be built on big play ability and steady hands of Cunningham. Michigan State's only touchdown against Ohio State came on a brilliant catch by Cunningham, and it was exactly what the Spartans needed to win.
His ineffectiveness against Nebraska had the exact opposite effect.
No. 4: Penalties Continue to Haunt the Spartans
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Michigan State's biggest win of the past few seasons was arguably last week's stunner against Wisconsin. As incredible as the final play of the game was, Spartan fans will tell you that the most stunning part of the game was that Michigan State committed exactly zero penalties.
Against Nebraska, the Spartans got back to their Oakland Raider-type ways. They committed nine penalties for 90 yards. What hurt the Spartans more than just the sheer number of infractions was the timing of most of them. There were foolish personal foul penalties that extended Husker drives and offsides calls that put Nebraska in third down-and-manageable situations. There were even two plays in the game in which Michigan State jumped offsides and then committed a pass interference on the same play!
After the way the Spartans played against Wisconsin (not to mention the William Gholston suspension), you would imagine Michigan State would have finally gotten the message about the effect that committing penalties has on a team's ability to win games.
Apparently, they didn't get the message.
No. 5: The Spartans No Longer Control Their Own Destiny
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Despite last week's victory for the Spartans over Wisconsin, one element that seemed to get continuously overlooked was that in terms of a Big Ten Championship, the game was almost meaningless. Win or lose, it would have far less of an impact for the Spartans than today's game against Nebraska.
The biggest advantage Michigan State had coming in today was knowing the power was in their hands. By beating Michigan two weeks ago, the Spartans were in the driver's seat in the Legends Division. By winning out in their divisional games against the likes of Nebraska and Iowa, the Spartans would be on their way to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game.
That is no longer the case.
The loss to the Huskers puts all of the power squarely in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Huskers have tough games remaining at Penn State and Michigan as well as a home game against Iowa. However, if they win out it will be Big Red representing the Legends Division at Lucas Oil Stadium and not the Spartans.