Michigan State’s Strengths Compared to Nebraska’s

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The top storyline this week is undoubtedly becoming somewhat repetitive for the Michigan State Spartans and their fans.

That of course is their dominant defense. There seems little else coming out of East Lansing to discuss. That is just fine with Mark Dantonio, whose team is becoming the standard for dominant defense in the Big Ten. It is hard to argue with their recipe for success this season. They have the best defense in all of college football.

What goes well with a great defense? How about the best punter college football as well? Mike Sadler is having an outstanding season as the Spartans’ punter. Sure, it sounds like a boring team to watch — I mean, who would watch that?

Nebraska Cornhusker fans would. Husker fans would applaud and embrace a defense as dominant as the Spartans’ is. Bo Pelini could finally dust off those seldom used blackshirts if he were to field a team similar to Dantonio’s. Pelini is also a coach prides himself on his defense. In fact, Pelini was hired by former Nebraska coach and athletic director Tom Osborne to restore the Nebraska football team to a prominent position on college football with a first-class defense.

What are some similarities between the Huskers and the Spartans?

Sadler has done an excellent job pinning opponents deep in their own territory with his punting skills. When he gets off one of his magnificent kicks, the Spartans’ defense often able to get a quick stop, which undoubtedly ends up switching field position in Michigan State’s favor.

The Huskers have an effective kicker on their squad as well. Kickoffs may only be used once in a game if a football team fails to score, but in most cases, a team will be able to kickoff more than once. When a team has a specialist who keeps the ball in bounds and gets touchbacks, they effectively eliminate a return threat from what is often one of the opposition’s most explosive players.

The Huskers have had 39 touchbacks on kickoffs this season, which is 66 percent of their attempts. Mauro Bondi handles the kickoffs for the Huskers.

When it comes down to defenses, it is difficult to compare anyone to the Spartans’ defense. The Spartans are third the country in points allowed are allowing less than 12 points per game (11.56). When that is broken down and no touchdowns are included, the Spartans’ opposition would score on only three possessions if they were held to field goals.

The Spartans are exactly one point away from leading the nation in this category. They also lead the Nation in yards per play, holding opponents to less than four yards a carry, and they also hold their opponents to 12.6 first downs in a game.  Amazingly, Michigan State is only allowing opponents 43 yards rushing a game, and the Spartans are the only team in the country to hold opponents to under two yards per carry.

The Huskers have not been nearly as dominant this season. They performed very poorly in their two losses this year, but are young and really seem to be peaking at season’s end. The Huskers have been particularly strong on third downs this season and have helped usher their opposition’s offense off of the field.

The Huskers are also developing a strong defensive line led by sophomore Randy Gregory and freshman Avery Moss. Their pass rush has played well into the capable hands of the Huskers secondary led by seniors Ciante Evens and Stanley Jean-Batpiste.

Clearly, the Spartans have an undeniable edge with their defensive prowess. The Huskers’ peaking team may surprise some, but the difference in this game will be decided by the often-forgotten offenses.

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