Chris Basnett weighs in with his report card from the Huskers' game against Michigan State.
RUNNING GAME (B)
Nebraska outrushed Michigan State 188-71, and was leaning on the Spartans hard as the game got late into the second half. The Huskers averaged 5.8 yards per carry in the first half but saw that number dwindle to 3.9 by the end of the game. Martinez was excellent in the option game, and Nebraska found success with the play until Omar Manning fumbled a pitch in the fourth quarter.
PASSING GAME (C)
Adrian Martinez's only interception came at the worst possible time, as Chester Kimbrough nearly took it back for a pick six to begin overtime. Martinez was also sacked on Nebraska's first snap of the game, the first of seven sacks for Michigan State's defense. Zavier Betts had five catches for 62 yards in the first half, tying his career-high for catches and setting a new high for yards, but didn't play after halftime.
AGAINST THE RUN (A)
Luke Reimer dropped Kenneth Walker III behind the line of scrimmage on the game's first play. Nick Henrich stopped him for a short gain a couple of plays later. It was a sign of things to come as the Blackshirts turned in a dominant effort. Walker, the nation's leading rusher, finished with 61 yards on 19 carries, with 23 of those yards coming on his tote out of the wildcat in overtime.
AGAINST THE PASS (B)
Marquel Dismuke picked off Payton Thorne on the game's fourth play, the Michigan State QB's first interception of the season and the first interception of Dismuke's career. Michigan State burned the Blackshirts with back-to-back 35-yard pass plays on consecutive drives — one on a flea-flicker — and a 38-yard completion to Connor Heyward featured two Huskers getting trucked. Again, Nebraska did more than enough here to win the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS (F)
You've seen it all before. The only way Michigan State was going to stay in the game in the second half was with special teams, and Nebraska was happy to oblige by allowing Jaylen Reed to return a punt 62 yards untouched for the tying touchdown with 3:47 left. William Przystup had a 7-yard punt as he and Daniel Cerni rotated. Yes, Nebraska rotated punters. Michigan State, meanwhile, averaged 58.8 yards on six punts as NU barely tried to field the ball.
GAME MANAGEMENT (D)
Another comedy of errors for the offensive line, which false-started four times in the first half. On defense, Deontre Thomas came free for a sack on Thorne that would have forced an MSU punt, then inexplicably picked the Spartan quarterback up and threw him to the ground, drawing a penalty and keeping the MSU drive alive. Nebraska wasn't penalized after halftime.
Loved the play call on fourth-and-3 midway through the fourth quarter that got Martinez on the edge with a run/pass option. The QB picked up the first down with his legs, and scored untouched shortly thereafter on a quarterback sweep that was sprung open by Chancellor Brewington's pretty block after he motioned into the formation. The Huskers got their big tight ends involved more in the second half, though some accuracy issues from Martinez prevented Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek from having bigger nights. The offensive line struggles make it tough to judge what kind of night the play-callers really had.
Close. Again. Nebraska did everything it needed to do, both offensively and defensively, to win the game in regulation. But it was the same old story — horrific, catastrophic special teams play and monumental offensive line struggles, especially in the first half, did the Huskers in. Perhaps someday the Huskers will make it easy on themselves. That day gets harder to see with every close loss.