The last time Nebraska had six straight seasons without a winning record, it made a change at head coach. The Huskers hired a program builder who won multiple Skyline Conference championships at Wyoming by the name of Bob Devaney. Like that 1962 team, the Husker’s QB is against rushing more than any other player on the roster. Devaney went 9-2 with a Gotham Bowl win in his first season. A win on Saturday would give the Huskers a shot at getting back to that mark that made a special 35-year stretch – the 9-win season.
Both teams’ passing attacks have been lackluster this season. Five different QBs have played between the two teams this season and only one of them has completed over 60% of his passes – Michigan State’s Sam Leavitt. While only playing sparingly so far this season, Leavitt has shown an ability to be a threat on the ground and through the air. As I called for last week, the Husker’s passing attack was sparked by some plays from the freshman, especially Jaylen Lloyd’s long touchdown. I don’t expect this passing attack to look good this season, but increasing the variance of the attack through big plays should help open the running game.
Finally, a second running back has replaced Jeff Sims in most carries among healthy players. I don’t expect much change in the quarterback run game, but Emmett Johnson is emerging as a reliable ball carrier. He hasn’t broken off a homerun-style run yet, but he’s proving to be a reliable double hitter. The Huskers have three players I trust to make a big play on the ground which will be necessary for November football in the Big Ten.
Michigan State has a true bell-cow back in Nate Carter. He’s third in rushing yards in the Big Ten while the Spartans are 13th in rushing yards per game. He’s responsible for nearly 70% of the team’s yards on the ground this season. He hasn’t been super explosive but still has a smooth right tail for his high-end rushing distribution. If Leavitt starts at QB, Michigan State could have a more dynamic rushing attack. If Carter doesn’t run well on Saturday, I predict a comfortable Nebraska victory.
Securing a bowl game would be huge for a young Huskers team. The extra practice would be invaluable for the young receivers to become a big threat in 2024. A bowl game shouldn’t be the only goal of the Huskers for the rest of the season. The division title is still within its sites. While I wouldn’t expect Nebraska to pull off a nationally altering upset in Indianapolis, another chance against an elite opponent will be a great learning (and recruiting opportunity) for Nebraska. If nothing else, it’ll produce one more fiery Matt Rhule video on Twitter.