Nebraska Football 2011: Michigan State Recap, Northwestern Preview

Matt Zvolanek@MattZvolanekCorrespondent IIOctober 31, 2011

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 29: Running back Le'Veon Bell #24 of the Michigan State Spartans stiff arm's safety Daimion Stafford #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Memorial Stadium October 29, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Nebraska defeated Michigan State 24-3. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

No. 9 Nebraska (7-1) vs Northwestern (3-5)

Recap:  Nebraska wins, 24-3.  Wow, what a performance by the Blackshirts.  Yes, in case you missed it, coach Carl Pelini handed them out after the Huskers shut down the Spartan offense.  The list of accomplishments for the Blackshirts in the game was long and awe-inspiring. 

Michigan State’s senior wideout BJ Cunningham had a streak of 41 games with a reception.  That streak ended Saturday.  The last time Michigan State was held to three points was in the 2003 Alamo Bowl against who else but a Bo Pelini-coached Nebraska team.  

Andrew Green stepped up and showed a good deal of improvement.  The Huskers used a two-deep safety set for most, if not all, of the game and was extremely effective.  The Blackshirts finally broke into the backfield and recorded four sacks against Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

On offense, Rex Burkhead carried the brunt of the load.  The junior running back carried the ball for a career-high 35 times, racking up 130 yards and two touchdowns.  Taylor Martinez came out shaky passing in the first half, completing only one pass for no yards. 

In the second half, Martinez was noticeably better, as if he heard Rece Davis’s comments about how he would never have Martinez throw.  He finished 7-of-13 passing with one interception and a touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead. 

Nebraska managed to put up 190 rushing yards on a defense that was allowing only 88.9 yards a game. 

What to Watch For: The Huskers now control their own destiny in the Legends division.  If they win out, a trip to Indianapolis is inevitable.  However, if the Huskers should drop a game or two it would take a lot for them to get to the Big Ten Championship. 

If Michigan State drops another game, the Huskers' title chances would be that much better.  But that is unlikely as the Spartans face Minnesota at home, go on the road to Iowa, host Indiana and finish off at Northwestern.  Michigan is also in the hunt but face a tougher schedule than the Spartans with trips to Iowa and Illinois and then hosting Nebraska and Ohio State. 

Biggest Question:  Will the Huskers experience a letdown this weekend against Northwestern?  The Wildcats are better than their 3-5 record indicates.  Dan Persa can make plays both through the air and on the ground.  How will the D-line respond?  Will they be able to get pressure on Persa like they did against Cousins?

Projected Outcome:  Dan Persa and Kain Colter have both played significant snaps at quarterback and are both dangerous.  The Wildcats are in the Top 50 in both rushing and passing offense and 40th in scoring offense. 

On defense, the Wildcats are near the bottom of the country in points allowed, giving up 31.5 points a game.  Nebraska should continue to pound the ball with Burkhead but also try some more passes in the play-action game.  Nebraska has too speedy a receiving corps to not get them involved in the game.  In fact, the Huskers' leading receiver Jamal Turner never even appeared on the field last week.  Hopefully that changes.  Regardless, Nebraska should put a hurting on Northwestern. Final Score: 42-13

Interesting Fact:  The last time Nebraska played Northwestern was in the 2000 Alamo Bowl.  The Huskers would end up winning the game 66-17, setting the record for most points ever scored in a bowl game.  Also, the Wildcats are 1-3 against the Huskers.