As I mentioned in my post last Friday, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were faced with a season-altering game against the Spartans of Michigan State. The offense had been on the up-tick, which looks strange even as I type that, (*Author's note: this aversion to believing that we can have a quasi-functional offense is actually a diagnosed affliction to disbelieve your offense will ever be good enough, referred to as Dissociative Watson Disorder, or DWD), but the defense, or lack thereof, in recent weeks had given me reason to worry about the powerful game of MSU.
Saturday dawned bright and early. A little too early, if I'm being perfectly honest. I understand the "tradition" and the "old-school feel" the Big 12 likes to hold onto with these early games. I really do.
But when you have 11 A.M. games it feels more like you're bony, arthritic hands are rigor-mortising onto the past instead of ushering in a new era of football.
It begs the highly mathematical question: how many keg stands can one fan do before 11 A.M.? The answer—an equally well thought-out, scientific response: not enough to scream at blood-vessel-bursting, lung-collapsing capacity for an entire four quarters.
There's barely enough time for a Kardashian marriage and the subsequent divorce in that small window of time. Barely.
Regardless of the start time, I'm sure the crowd was pumped. This was a game that deserved the weighty feeling that Husker fans were feeling as they stood in the stands for the game or sat at a sports bar, pounding down burgers and beers (*Author's note: yes, that is what I did).
Michigan State got the kick and it looked like they were going to carve up the Huskers on the ground. They ran it right through the heart of the defense, straight ahead and straight down. They gouged the defense for six, then seven, then 11 yards. Suddenly a bucket of beers didn't seem enough. I started looking on the menu for where we could order a pony keg.
Then something strange happened.
Michigan State, a team that prides itself on playing conservative, smart football decided to mix it up. Instead of continuing to pound the ball right down the wet-tissue-paper-strength defensive line's throat, they threw the ball.
Then threw it again.
Lance Thorrell jumped in front of a Kirk Cousins pass and was suddenly hauling ass towards a Blackshirt.
He didn't quite score, but it was Husker football just outside the red zone. When what to our wondering eyes should occur? Why P-90Rex, Tayvid Copperfield and an offensive line who suddenly were wearing their mean-and-nasty pants, crammed it straight down Michigan State's cramhole.
As the game continued, two things became abundantly clear:
1. Michigan State severely over-thought their offense. When the run was working, they chose to pass. When the defensive line put up less fight than Kris Humphries' divorce attorney, they chose to have Kirk Cousins fling the ball around more.
2. We can get the grind it out, uglier-than-The-Situation's-Herpecin-B-perscription-pills kind of yards. Burkhead, who played like an American hero, only averaged 3.7 yards per carry. The more important, less talked-about stat that Burkhead dominated during the game was his BAMOWRHPOTMSPC (*Author's note: Badass Who Makes the Opposition Want to Run Home and Put On Their Mothers' Skirts Per Carry) in which he led all players with a 99.9.
Early word from the Hatch Bureau of Entirely Fictitious Facts is that he also undoubtedly shattered Taylor Martinez's record, set after the K-State game in 2010, for number of unsolicited sext messages received from the UNL student body. Way to be, Rex.
The defense also played inspired football. They looked like the team we had seen in 2010. Kirk Cousins was 11-27 with an interception. His average yards per completion was tied with Burkhead's yards-per-carry. The second leading receiver for Michigan State was some guy whose previous claim to fame was having a name that looks like how someone with a lisp would pronounce Tim Lincecum's last name. The secondary was splendid and Eric Martin finally showed us some of the reason why the coaching staff converted him over from linebacker.
It was, in short, a dominant defensive effort. (*Author's note: another sentence that looks strange to type in the year 2011.)
Has Pelini regained his mojo? Was it more a case of terrible play-calling by the Spartans?
We shall see.
Northwestern comes calling next, replete with stud QB Dan Persa and a wide-open, very un-Michigan State-like offense. I like the Huskers' chances and eagerly look forward to see if Pelini has finally brought his defensive simmer to a boil.