Throughout Matt Rhule’s eight-game tenure as the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, he has seen a massive increase in defensive coordinator Tony White’s Blackshirts. On the other hand, the Big Red’s offense under Marcus Satterfield is still struggling. Luckily the Huskers can rewrite this trend this weekend against Michigan State. But they will have to do three major things to succeed in the matchup.
Can the Cornhusker’s Running Game Start Early With Emmett Johnson?
After NU running backs Gabe Ervin and Rahmir Johnson suffered season-ending injuries, freshman Emmett Johnson took the reigns in EJ Barthel’s running back room. As a result of this change, the Minnesota native’s production has only paid more dividends as the season has gone along for the Big Red. In five games alone, he’s impressed on his 36 carries by rushing for a total of 136 yards and one touchdown. Furthermore, he is also a large part of the Huskers’ plan in the screen game. In his two catches in that area, he has 20 yards. And he might succeed again. In their last two games, the Spartans’ defense under Scottie Hazleton has given up a combined 76 points. This bodes well for the Huskers’ struggling offense under Satterfield, but there is a chance that they may make it hard on Johnson. Currently, MSU is fourth in the category of rushing defense. However, NU has a strong chance of negating this by having strong run blocking by the offensive line on Saturday.
Can The Nebraska Cornhuskers Protect The Football?
In the matchup against Purdue, Huskers sophomore quarterback Heinrich Haarberg only managed to gain 22 yards from his 19 carries. And the option-oriented signal caller would’ve gotten more if he made good decisions with the football. On multiple drives for the Cornhuskers offense, Haarberg just stood in the pocket and took sacks from Boilermakers defenders. In this regard, the Huskers were lucky because this didn’t have an effect on the team’s overall output. But when NU junior quarterback Jeff Sims entered the contest, the Big Red entered far more disastrous waters. Since the Colorado matchup, Sims’ constant miscues with the football have forced him to ride the bench. And against the Boilermakers, he might’ve needed to stay there. In the fourth quarter on a fourth and one try, he coughed up the ball leading Purdue linebacker Kydran Jenkins to score. This was a key moment for the Boilermakers defense on Saturday, and look out for Michigan State’s defense to replicate these opportunities in the matchup this weekend.
Read more about Nebraska’s fumbles in What Did We Learn About Nebraska’s Win Over Purdue?
The Cornhuskers’ Freshman Playmakers Need to Continue to Step Up
Last week against Purdue, Nebraska freshman wide receiver Jaylen Lloyd connected with Haarberg on a 72-yard option pass that led to a wide-open touchdown in the second quarter. Furthermore, wide receiver Jaidyn Doss looked impressive as well. In his limited appearances as a true freshman, he only had a four-yard reception against the Northwestern Wildcats. However, he’s since doubled that production with a 16-yard reception against the Boilermakers. Now that he has confidence, can he muster an explosive performance against the Spartans? It’s certainly possible for the receiver, but Malachi Coleman has a better chance of making things happen for the Big Red offense. At Lincoln East, he proved himself as one of the top wide receiver recruits in the country. And so far in his career at Nebraska, the freshman’s lived up to expectations under Rhule. Against Northwestern, he had a 44-yard touchdown when he beat Northwestern’s defensive back on his way to the endzone. But will the Cornhuskers’ dynamic threat break it open against Michigan State’s secondary again on Saturday?
— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFootball) November 3, 2023
Is A Bowl In The Cornhuskers Future?
With the Nebraska Cornhuskers under Rhule’s leadership, the record books are being rewritten. For the first time since 2001, the Cornhuskers have had their first undefeated season. And the program is on the verge of making its first bowl appearance since 2016. In the past, the Huskers could have had many chances to rewrite this statistic, but they haven’t. This is certainly due to NU former head coach Scott Frost, as his four-year tenure only amounted to a 16-31 record for the Big Red. Now in 2023, the Huskers are confident in their chances of spoiling Michigan State’s senior day. Can they make this a reality this weekend?