Report card: Nebraska vs. Michigan State

2013-11-16T19:40:00Z 2013-11-23T10:08:08Z Report card: Nebraska vs. Michigan StateBy BRIAN ROSENTHAL / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

RUNNING GAME (A)

First of all, kudos to senior tackle Jeremiah Sirles for trying to gut it out Saturday, starting the game despite spraining a MCL in a knee just last week. That’s courage, folks, and that’s wanting to win. Secondly, Ameer Abdullah proved he’s All-Big Ten-worthy, and Nebraska again showed grit and resolve with its banged-up offensive line paving the way for 182 rushing yards — 5.7 per carry — against a defense we in the media have been touting as the second coming of the ’85 Bears.

PASSING GAME (D)

When it became obvious Nebraska had to throw late in the game, Michigan State let loose, and Tommy Armstrong, often under pressure, was errant with his throws. He was 5-of-14 after halftime and 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter. He made a bad mistake on his early interception, and simply didn't always connect with open receivers when he had the chance.

AGAINST THE RUN (B)

Nebraska fared well through three quarters but wore down in the fourth after spending too much time on the field, partly because of the five turnovers. Michigan State dominated time of possession 38:37 to 21:23. That includes 11:02 to 3:58 in the fourth quarter, when Jeremy Langford ran 11 times for 68 yards. Langford had 21 carries for 83 yards through the first three quarters.

AGAINST THE PASS (B)

Nebraska had held its previous two opponents to a combined 5-of-29 on third down. The biggest problem for the Blackshirts on Saturday? Not being able to get off the field on third down. Michigan State converted 11 times on 21 third-down tries, none more crucial than Connor Cook’s third-and-13 throw to Keith Mumphrey for the clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. Cook completed 15 passes, and eight of them converted third downs. On the bright side for Nebraska, though, was the play of Randy Gregory, who also is proving he’s All-Big Ten-worthy.

SPECIAL TEAMS (D)

Fake field goals are nothing surprising for Michigan State to do, but Nebraska coaches said they hadn’t seen the Spartans run what they did Saturday, with holder Mike Sadler carrying the ball. The play was executed perfectly. That’s two fumbled punt returns in two weeks for Jordan Westerkamp. Is it getting in his head? Officials waved off an interference penalty on another return when they stated (correctly) that the receiver, Westerkamp, was run into by his own player. That begs the question: How does that happen? Also, would it hurt Nebraska to ever go after a punt?

PLAY CALLING (I)

Today’s grade is incomplete. I don’t have the wherewithal to criticize what looked to be a decently called game when your quarterback is turnover-prone.

GAME MANAGEMENT (D)

I get that every play is supposed to be reviewed, but doesn’t Nebraska have someone upstairs who should alert Bo Pelini of times to challenge plays? There were two worthy challenges Saturday: a second-quarter Michigan State completion on third down that was inexplicably spotted a yard-and-a-half beyond where the pass was actually caught, and an intentional-grounding flag that was picked up when officials said Cook’s pass went beyond the line of scrimmage. It didn’t. Not even close.

OVERALL (C)

All that red and green on the field made you think of Christmas, and Nebraska was in a charitable mood by gift-wrapping a Legends Division title (unofficially) for Michigan State. What a sloppy performance, and with so much at stake. Nebraska’s November magic has gone "poof," and with its goals no longer attainable, what comes next for this team?

Reach Brian Rosenthal at 402-473-7436 or brosenthal@journalstar.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBR.

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