On Saturday, the Huskers’ path to bowl eligibility under head coach Matt Rhule got a lot harder with their 20-17 loss to Michigan State. Let’s take a look at what factors contributed to this rough day for the Cornhuskers, as the Spartans stun the Huskers in East Lansing.
Turnovers Hamper The Nebraska Huskers Offense
After a worrisome first drive from sophomore quarterback Heinrich Haarberg and the rest of the Nebraska offense, the Huskers found success in the running game with freshman running back Emmett Johnson and his 11-yard sprint. And on the next play senior running back Anthony Grant charged ahead with a 16-yard gain. But then, the Big Red’s momentum vanished. On third and 18, Haarberg’s wobbly pass intended for wide receiver Alex Bullock got intercepted. In the second half, the Huskers offense managed to spark their offense with wide receiver Malachi Coleman’s 30-yard grab. This led to a 43-yard run by Haarberg as well as Johnson’s second score of the season. But, it would be all in vain. At the end of the game, Haarberg fumbled. Because of all these issues with Haarberg’s ball security, does Nebraska take quarterback Jeff Sims off the bench? It’s certainly an option that offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield will have to consider at this juncture in the season.
Read more about Nebraska’s quarterback problems in How Nebraska’s Offense Can Explode This Week
The Nebraska Huskers Defense Regresses
Throughout his tenure as the Huskers defensive coordinator, Tony White has been spectacular. But in the matchup against Michigan State, the efforts from the Blackshirts secondary were not enough. In the first half, MSU freshman quarterback Katin Houser routinely burned Husker defenders by completing long passes to both Spartan tight end Brennan Parachek and wide receiver Jaylan Franklin. And the second half wouldn’t be much better, as wideout Tyrell Henry would chip away at the Cornhuskers secondary to keep the MSU offense alive. As a result of this, field goal kicker Jonathan Kim would make a 50-yard field goal. But, White’s unit would slowly start to feel like themselves again when MSU’s offense was faced with pressure. Talented freshman defensive lineman Cam Lenhardt sacked Houser on second down. And walk-on sophomore James Williams continued his steady production with a sack on third down as well. But unfortunately, the Spartans were able to weather the storm with backup quarterback Sam Leavitt. Early in the fourth quarter, he was able to throw a touchdown pass when senior wideout Montorie Foster beat senior cornerback Quinton Newsome for MSU’s final score of the day. As one of the Nebraska Huskers’ worst performances of the season on defense, it hampers the team’s confidence going into the Maryland matchup. But, there is hope since they have been dominant up to this point. Because of this, defensive backs coach Evan Cooper and the rest of Nebraska’s staff needs to make more adjustments. And they also need to motivate their units to double down on their process once again.
— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFootball) November 4, 2023
Brian Buschini’s Punting Woes
Throughout this season, Nebraska junior punter Brian Buschini has excelled in his duties under Ed Foley’s special teams unit. Just look at the Northwestern game when he had four of his seven tries land inside the 20-yard line. And the Purdue matchup? He had a solid average of around 45.6 yards. But against the Michigan State Spartans, he would struggle to replicate that same success. On just five punts on the day, he had his second-worst average on the season with 35 yards. And in the fourth quarter, he would pooch the ball 28 yards to set up MSU’s offense in Nebraska territory. However, there is a silver lining here. He managed to down one punt inside the 20-yard line in the contest. On the other hand, when Michigan State punted the ball, the Nebraska Cornhuskers return game proved to be disastrous throughout the contest. This is because Rhule trotted out injured Nebraska wide receiver Billy Kemp to field punts. At the time, this strategy was a good idea at the start, but the Virginia transfer’s only role was to not turn the ball over on special teams. This provided the offense with poor starting field position on each of NU’s drives. While this doesn’t paint the whole picture on how the team lost, this is a big factor. Hopefully, special teams coordinator Ed Foley will fix this issue when they play against the Maryland Terrapins next week in Memorial Stadium. Otherwise, this team will continue to hurt themselves in the quest for bowl eligibility.