Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State football's opponent. This week, The State News' Sam Sklar spoke with The Daily Nebraskan Senior Sports Editor Landon Wirt.
After a triumphant upset win against No. 24 Miami, Michigan State returns home to face Nebraska this Saturday as part of the annual “Stripe the Stadium” game. Despite some recent disappointing seasons, Nebraska fans always travel well and there should be a good amount of red in the woodshed.
The Daily Nebraskan senior sports editor Landon Wirt sat down to give his insight ahead of Saturday’s Big Ten matchup.
Q: Adrian Martinez is in his fourth year as the starting quarterback for Nebraska. Have you seen any signs of progression through four games this season?
A: Absolutely. I am a current senior at UNL, so I have been here for all of the Frost tenure and all of Martinez’s tenure at quarterback and I would say that this four-game stretch to open the season is the best that I have seen him look. The thing that has burned Nebraska in the past, 2019 was a big one and even 2020 too, was the lack of skill position players around Adrian Martinez ... When all the skill positions and weapons are on the field for Adrian, it helps him a lot in the passing game.
In that sense, I think that he has really taken some steps this season and really trusting his guys out on the perimeter. Because of that, he is on pace to have one of his better seasons as a collegiate quarterback.
Q: What are your thoughts on Scott Frost? Do you think he has the program heading in the right direction?
A: Through four games, Nebraska’s starts to seasons have been kind of a mixed bag ... Last season, COVID-19, as I take a step back and take a look at all these teams nationally, COVID just had such a big impact on how these programs were able to develop. It is kind of a cop out but it was almost a wash. Now I think coming into this season, it's prove it or lose it, because he’s got weapons, he’s got an experienced quarterback, he’s got an experienced defense, so if Nebraska is not able to turn all of that into a postseason eligibility, then I think many are going to start asking questions of Scott Frost.
There is a new athletic director that has definitely shown that he is willing to make drastic changes at his previous job and the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Even here, he is willing to make change. I am not saying that change is going to happen if Nebraska does not make a bowl game, but the pieces are in place for Nebraska to be successful in conference play. I think that the direction is there and that the team is good enough and the quality of players is good enough, which are things I may not have been able to say a couple of years ago, but now it is time to take all of that talent and translate it into on the field success.
After this year if things do not go the way they should, at least how people are expecting, then I think it is really going to be time to start asking some burning questions about whether or not Frost is the right guy to lead Nebraska.
Q: Connor Culp has really struggled through the first four games after being named the Big Ten Kicker of the Year in 2020. Are any changes expected to be made for Saturday’s game?
A: On Monday, Frost mentioned that they have a lot of confidence in Connor Culp. He is a guy that has been around the program for a couple of years, an LSU transfer. A guy that Frost has a lot of respect for. However, that position is now opened back up. It has been one of the hallmarks of Frost’s tenure that the kicking position has been a little bit spotty and Culp seemed to have shored that up in 2020 because he was really really good. And this year it just has not been there.
Every single player that spoke at Monday’s press conference I was at voiced their support for Connor. They said he is a great guy and a great teammate. One of Nebraska’s tight ends Austin Allen alluded to the fact that sometimes it is mental, and once you have a lot of success, seeing one little hiccup can flip your mentality and then it is a struggle. I would be surprised if Connor Culp is kicking on Saturday.
Q: What are your predictions for Saturday’s game?
If Nebraska can stop Kenneth Walker, limit his effectiveness per carry and make Payton Thorne beat them, I think that is the Huskers best chance. However, I think that (Walker) is really good and I do not think Nebraska is going to be able to do it for 60 minutes. I think it is going to be close. I think it will come down to a field goal or one or two points. If Nebraska continues its positive form from Oklahoma, it really will be a toss up. I think that the Spartans get the edge at home in what is going to be a really big game for Mel Tucker and those guys.
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