Some things, you can control. Some you can’t.
The Nebraska offensive line, which has been devastated by injuries to starters Spencer Long, Jake Cotton, Jeremiah Sirles and Mike Moudy, did what it could to control the line of scrimmage in Saturday’s 41-28 loss to Michigan State, pushing around the Spartans' run defense like no one has been able to do this season.
“There was no question we could have run the ball all day,” Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said.
Michigan State had been giving up an average of 43.4 yards per game on the ground, No. 1 nationally. Nebraska ran for 182 yards Saturday, including 123 by Ameer Abdullah. The Spartans' first nine foes averaged a measly 1.6 yards per carry. The Huskers averaged 5.7.
“We just do what we do,” said senior Cole Pensick, who moved from center to play guard Saturday. “That’s what we thrive on, is beating the D-line up. We get after it. No mistake about it, Michigan State is a great defense, so hats off to them for taking advantage of their opportunities to get the ball.”
Most of those opportunities were not in the offensive line's control. Even if you lay the blame for a key Nebraska fumble at the end of the first half on the quarterback-center exchange, that still leaves four other times the Huskers pushed the self-destruct button and gave the ball to the Spartans.
“There were a lot of things there on offense,” Brown said. “Turnovers killed us and shortened our drives. We had a real good game plan, but when you put the ball on the ground five times to their zero … you can’t beat a bad team, let alone a good team, that way.”
Sirles suffered an MCL sprain last week against Michigan and was not expected to play Saturday. Offensive line coach John Garrison said Sirles, who hadn’t practiced all week, approached him Friday and said his knee was feeling pretty good.
“I had a long talk with him and, obviously, with the trainers,” Garrison said. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t one of those heroic moments. I probably asked him five or six times how he was and he was getting annoyed with me. He said, ‘Coach, I’m fine.’
“He was ready to play. We warmed him up and he felt good today. When he ran out on the field, he was running 100 miles an hour. He probably ran his fastest 40-yard dash just to show me when he took the field that he was ready to play. He came in and gave everything he could give it until he felt it (the injury) again.”
Sirles' play inspired his linemates.
“I had no idea he was going to play until I saw him out there for warmups,” center Mark Pelini said. “I think everyone was jacked up to see him out there trying to give it a go.”
Brown said the key to the success of NU's run game was the offensive line coming off the ball and Abdullah’s vision in picking holes and gaps.
“We did a nice job of spreading them out with our receivers getting wide. That forced their linebackers to go wide and we were able to run the ball inside.”
“The score was 5-0 on turnovers and that was the key stat of the day,” Brown said. “We couldn’t sustain anything. We probably put up more numbers, particularly running the football, than anyone has on them the past couple of years, since our game a year ago. I was proud of our effort, but the execution and turnovers cost us.”