Lincoln, NE — Eighty-six yards and a completion percentage of just over 40 wasn’t going to get it done against No. 13 Nebraska.
Those numbers, along with an interception, is all senior quarterback Kirk Cousins could muster against the Cornhusker defense. Nebraska (7-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) served the No 9 Spartans their first conference loss, of the season, 24-3, and didn’t allow the MSU offense to find the end zone.
Although the rushing attack appeared like it would chew up the Huskers defense all day — sophomore running back Le’Veon Bell began the game with four rushes for 29 yards — MSU’s failure to execute pass plays changed the dynamic of the game.
“(We) were never able to get into a rhythm,” Cousins said. “Credit Nebraska, who played great coverage. They did a nice job of covering us in space and they got great athletes to do that. We had a hard time getting separation.”
On four first-quarter drives, Cousins could complete only 2-of-8 passes for eight yards. And on the sixth play of the game, the senior captain threw an interception to cornerback Lance Thorell.
Usually known for his efficiency, Cousins, who owns an MSU-best 146.6 passer rating, went 11-for-27 on Saturday with his longest pass being 20 yards.
“It was a combination of everything,” said Cousins of the team’s inability to pass. ”There were plays where there was nothing there no matter how long the protection lasted. There were plays where the protection broke down where I had something. There were plays where it was a combination. It was a total mix.”
After the game, Cousins pointed out his team still had plenty of opportunities to make Saturday a game. He finished the first half with only 27 passing yards, but Nebraska’s passing attack was even more ineffective with zero yards at the break.
Had the Spartans converted a few more third down plays, there were some successful drives, Cousins said.
“At times we made plays and moved the ball,” he said. “But we never came away with the number of points we needed.”
Sophomore defensive end William Gholston was back on the field against Nebraska after serving a one-game suspension for violating the NCAA’s “sportslike conduct” policy.
Gholston wasn’t even allowed in Spartan Stadium for the team’s win against then-No. 4 Wisconsin. So, perhaps motivated by the absence, he took his frustrations out on the Nebraska offense
Gholston recorded a team-high 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
“I was excited,” Gholston said. “I was ready. Practice went well. Game didn’t go as planned, but I was ready to go.”
Combined with redshirt freshman end Marcus Rush, the duo tallied 26 tackles. After the game Gholston couldn’t believe the number.
“I didn’t know we did that much,” Gholston said. “Wow, that was a lot. I just felt like we game planned pretty well. We knew what they were going to do, and we just executed at those times we made the plays.”
The Spartans were bit hard by injuries Saturday.
Within the first five minutes of the game, four MSU players had hit the turf in pain and overall, eight Spartans went down in the 60 minutes.
Of those, junior running back Larry Caper, junior linebacker Steve Gardiner, and sophomore safety Isaiah Lewis and junior linebacker Chris Norman did not return.
MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said he wasn’t sure of the severity of the injuries, but that none of the them appeared serious enough for a player to miss extended time.
“We will find out,“ Dantonio said. “In the locker room, it didn’t seem like any of them were too long-term. It was a very physical game on both sides. There were a lot of guys dinged up out there”
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