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The Carriker Chronicles: Michigan State game reaction

By Adam Carriker


1- I haven’t been this excited to write a Carriker Chronicles in a while! Attention to detail is very important in football, but there are times when the most basic things are what make the difference. I’ve believed all year this team has the capability of winning more games and winning games against quality opponents. We can talk about how the Huskers have 15 returning starters back from a nine-win team last year. Then we can look at the the recruiting rankings and conversely say, well the overall talent just isn’t there right now. The bottom line is, as complicated as football can be, at it’s very core football is about blocking, tackling and who plain and simply just wants it more. The loss to Purdue last week was as frustrating and baffling as any loss in recent Nebraska football history. However just one week later, the victory over undefeated and seventh-ranked Michigan State is arguably the biggest win the Huskers have had in 14 years, since they beat Oklahoma in 2001.

2- The biggest difference I noticed on the field this week was the Huskers’ passion and belief. This is the most intense, passionate and in sync I’ve seen Nebraska play for four full quarters this year. They came out of the gate fast with a big fourth-down stop of the Spartans, then quickly built a 10-0 lead. They were ready to play from the moment the ball was kicked on the opening kick of the game. They never stopped fighting and believing they were going to win either. They entered the fourth quarter down 31-20, but the energy and effort never wavered for one second. The result was three consecutive touchdown drives on the Huskers final three possessions to cap a great fourth quarter comeback victory. For the first time this year it looked like to me, the entire team forgot about who their coach used to be, disregarded who they might think their coach should be, and sold out for the man who is their coach currently, along with laying everything on the line for the guy standing next to him and the fans in the stands. In one word, Nebraska played with HEART! Bleed Nebraska Red

3- I don’t think anybody was a better example of showing what Nebraska football is all about on Saturday night than wide receiver Brandon Reilly. He is living proof that the Husker walk on program is still an important part of the football program as a whole. I’ve mentioned before how Nebraska has won many championships in the past with contributions from a lot of walk on players. Reilly is not only a walk on, but he’s a guy who was playing JV football as late as his junior year in high school. Fast forward a few years later to Saturday night, against a Michigan St. team that had only lost one Big Ten football game in the past three years before playing Nebraska, and Reilly was our second biggest receiving weapon with just under 90 yards receiving and he hauled in the game-winning touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter as well. I have the utmost respect for the walk on program and it’s players. It’s one of the things that has always been special about Nebraska.

4- I believe we found our starting running back. Please give the football to Imani Cross. In my opinion he played the best game of his career. He ran for just under 100 yards on less that 20 carriers. He averaged almost 5.4 per rush attempt. We need some consistent production from a consistent rotation in our backfield, and next week going into Rutgers, our running game needs to start with Imani Cross. Throughout the game we can mix in Terrell Newby or some of the younger backs that have shown flashes this year, but if Cross can consistently play like he did Saturday night against the Spartans really good defense, then he needs to be given the opportunity to be our starting running back. The running game was also helped by shaking things up along the offensive line. One of those moves was moving Zach Sterup to guard and the result was a noticeable improvement up front. That move along with a lot more balanced play calling that mixed run and pass. Also allowing Tommy Armstrong to use his feet was great to finally see.

5- I loved watching Tommy Armstrong put his head down and run over the Michigan St. defender for one of his two rushing touchdowns in the game. That play alone told you how much this game meant to the team. I did say I was going to offer my thoughts and opinion on a few things, and Tommy’s mechanics is one of them. His mechanics is not something I’d address right now. I would wait until the off season, but they need improvement. Just so everyone knows, I spent most of my childhood throwing a ball. In high school I had major league scouts talking to me frequently because of my 95mph fastball. I had scholarship offers to play quarterback at multiple Power 5 conference schools. My points isn’t to say that I'm an expert on playing college quarterback, but while I ultimately decided I liked hitting people more than getting hit, my point is I know more about throwing a football than your typical 300 lb defensive lineman. Tommy has a habit of looking like he’s doing a small fade away jump shot while he’s throwing the football. Instead of driving of off his back foot, he throws falling back into his back foot. He needs to work on pointing his shoulder where he’s throwing, bringing his hips through more and driving off of his back foot. This will improve not only velocity, but more importantly for Tommy, his accuracy. His completing percentage will improve, but even more important and more valued by coaches, hitting receivers so they don’t have to break their stride will improve as well. That’s the difference between completing a 5-yard slant for 5 yards, and hitting a receiver in stride so a 5-yard slant becomes a 15-20 gain. That should be priority No. 1 for the coaching staff to work with him on in the off season. I love just about everything else I see from Tommy. He has guts, leadership skills and the ability to bring his team back from deficits late in games.

6- I don’t want to hear the Michigan St. fans complain about the call at the end of the game. There was a double pass interference call earlier in the game that was highly questionable and it was a big break for the Spartans. I especially don’t want to hear it after they way they got a lucky break and beat Michigan. Nebraska has had several questionable calls and bad breaks go against us, it’s about time something went our way. Regardless of what the announcers said, there is not enough definitive video evidence to overturn the call anyway. Is it questionable, yes, but definitive enough to overturn the call, no. That’s my completely objective and 100 percent unbiased opinion.emoji_1F603.png

7- I was proud of the Blackshirts. They gave up a couple big runs to Michigan St. and Connor Cook passed for 335 yards, but the relentless energy that they played with is what playing defense is all about. It’s part of the reason I chose to go to the dark side of the ball. Connor Cook is going to be playing on Sundays and Husker fans saw why Saturday night. There were still some miscommunications in the secondary, but Nebraska confused Cook into a key interception and while the defense didn’t rack up the sacks stats. They did push the pocket and the previously mentioned fourth down stop set the tone for the whole night.

8- I’ve been saying all year that there’s no way we should fire Mike Riley after just one season. I know some people are looking at him differently after this last game, but even so, I believe we just need to get out of his way. There is obviously some issues from the previous staff that this current coaching staff is having to deal with. Getting rid of whatever level of toxicity there may be in the program could take some time. Getting nine wins every season was great, but I think those wins were just a band aid that covered up deeper issues, which is why we struggled for so long against ranked teams or quality opponents. Give coach Riley and his staff time to help the program move on from the past and build for the future. One season does not a coach break, nor does one victory a season make. I’ve stated that in my opinion this was the best win for the Huskers in over 14 years, but judging Mike Riley as the Nebraska football coach is going to take longer. Whether he was the right hire or not is irrelevant now, because he’s our coach. Keeping Bo Pelini or not is irrelevant now, because Mike Riley is our coach. Mike Riley is a man who turned down Alabama before Nick Saban, USC before Pete Carroll and multiple NFL teams since. Take it from a guy who went to Oregon State’s football camp four years in a row in high school, the Beaver fans have forgotten how horrifically horrible things were for them before Mike Riley, not to mention their facillities and program recognition do not even compare to that of Nebraska’s. Whether Mike Riley is the right guy or not I have no idea yet myself, but we need to give him a chance, then it’s up to him if he fails or succeeds. There will come a day to offer a more definitive opinion on Coach Riley, when that day comes I will offer my opinion along with everyone else. That day in my opinion is a ways off yet.

9- For a team who’s started 20 different players on both offense and defense (think about that, that’s basically starting all your starters and almost all of your back ups on offense and defense at some point in the season), a team coming into Saturday’s game who’d given up 43 pass plays of 20 yards or more this season, and a team coming into yesterday’s game who was +4 turnover margin in their three wins and -12 in turnover margin in their six losses, and had lost four of those games on the very last play of the game, I couldn’t be prouder. Even if they would have lost the game I would feel the exact same way. It’s much easier to say that after a win, but I mean it, win or lose I couldn’t be prouder of the resilliancy of this team and the coaching staff included. This Nebraska team has had about as much scrutiny as any Husker team for a long time, especially after the Purdue game. Their response, to come together, play harder and faster for four full quarters against their toughest opponent yet, and prove that the Nebraska football program is still alive and well!

10- The stadium was absolutely rocking on Saturday night. I loved seeing that! I had heard some vague rumors about some people boycotting the game because of how the season I was going. I don’t know the legitimacy of these rumors, but I hope they weren’t true. Right now, absolutely nobody can ever question the passion of Husker Nation. The incredible sellout streak, the fact that Memorial stadium becomes the third largest city in the state on game days and our fans being the only fans I’ve ever heard of to clap for the opposing team as they walk of the field if they beat us in a good game. Husker fans are known all around the country. Don’t ever change. Be frustrated after a loss, but never be apathetic. Be exuberant after a win, but always no matter what, be respectful, passionate and classy. That’s who Nebraska is.

I post the Carriker Chronicles on my new Facebook page every Sunday night at 7 pm CT. Be sure to check them out each and every week. So until next week Husker Nation...Go Big Red! GBR.