Michigan State is used to heartbreaking losses and Saturday’s game against Nebraska was no different. The Spartans suffered their second loss in the final seconds against a Big Ten opponent in the past three weeks.
Although heartbreak is seemingly a part of the Spartans routine for the past couple of seasons, they are also great at overcoming adversity– and what better way to do it than winning their final two games and guaranteeing a bowl game.
The Spartans had a better offensive output than normal, but the defense fell flat against a potent Nebraska offense. Let’s take a look at the grades at each position.
Andrew Maxwell had a tough game for the Spartans as he completed just 33 percent of his passes although being pressured less than normal. He had time to make some important throws, but forced the ball into double coverage and showed extreme inaccuracy. He will need to do better than this 123 yard performance on nine completions if the Spartans want to make a bowl.
Running Backs: A-
Le’Veon Bell had one of his better game on the season, running the ball 36 times for 188 yards and two scores. He kept Michigan State in the game and made Maxwell’s poor performance less noticeable. The backup running back, Nick Hill, looked great on the two carries he got, gaining 30 yards and setting the Spartans up in good field position.
The receivers were not the problem in this poor passing attack. Maxwell had a hard time finding the open receivers– there were many– and throwing the ball into double and triple coverage. Tony Lippitt had the biggest play of the game for any Spartan receiver, catching a 26 yard lob pass from Maxwell in the endzone with two defenders trailing.
Offensive Line: B+
The offensive line, although slightly diminished, has been growing as a unit ever since their terrible performance against Ohio State. Maxwell was not sacked at all and faced very little pressure all game long, but failed to capitalize. They opened holes for Bell as he had his best output since week four against Eastern Michigan.
Defensive Line: C+
The defensive line had a lot of pressure on Taylor Martinez as a unit, but failed to do their part in containing the junior quarterback. The end result: Martinez rushing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Once the speedy quarterback saw the defense collapse, he hit the edge hard and made for big rushes as he scored on runs of 71 and 35 yards.
The same problem that the defensive line faced could be repeated for the usually-solid linebackers. The linebackers did, however, do a great job in stopping the pass and covering the short routes. Nebraska had a tough time throwing the screen pass as the Spartan linebackers sniffed it out on most occasions. On the other hand, the defense allowed 313 rush yards, 40 more yards than their total yards allowed average per game.
Defensive Backs: B-
The defensive backs had a roller coaster game to say the least, and just because they had more positive plays than negative, I must give them a solid grade. They were great against the pass, intercepting three Martinez tosses and stopping the deep ball. However, they left Spartan nation with a sour taste in their mouth, although the call was controversial, with a late pass interference that led to the game winning touchdown. Tough ending for a solid game as a unit.
Special Teams: C
The special teams unit could have done better, but could have done worse as well. There was nothing notable that happened with this squad, but a missed field goal early by Dan Conroy that would have given the Spartans momentum after an early drive was a huge miss. They came away empty, but later made up for it with a 25-yard make– not enough for victory.