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Official Husker Locker Blog

2011 Oct 26

NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Despite Martinez's Words, Nebraska Faces a Must-Win Situation


By HuskerLocker

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By James Stevenson

Nebraska faces Michigan State this Saturday in what has become a must-win game for the Huskers against a Legends Division foe. All of the Big Red’s goals hang in the balance as the Spartans visit Lincoln.

The team’s three goals for each season are simple and unchanging. The first is to win the Legends Division. This gives Nebraska a shot at goal number two - Winning the Big Ten Championship. That gives way to the goal of winning the BCS National Championship Game, which almost certainly requires Nebraska to win its conference and have a near-perfect, if not flawless record.

It’s surprising then, that during Monday’s press conference, sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez said, "We just have to take each game one at a time. It doesn't matter if we lose this game. Michigan State might lose to someone else. This doesn't have to be a key game for us."

Perhaps this is just coach-speak coming out incorrectly. Head Coach Bo Pelini told the press that “(the team) knows what’s at stake.” While Pelini never likes to hype games up, and sticks to his guns about no game being different from another, this one certainly is.

The idea of a “key game” is overused in sports. At various points, commentators and fans called both Nebraska’s game against Wisconsin and Ohio State “must-win” games. While both were important to team goals and prestige, neither game would’ve ended Nebraska’s chance to claim its division, an essential part to attending the Big Ten Championship Game
With all due respect to Martinez, it does matter if Nebraska loses this game. A loss to Michigan State would not only end what very slim national title hopes the Cornhuskers have, but it would also effectively end Nebraska’s chances to claim the Legends division and thusly, the conference championship.

A Michigan State win would push the Spartans’ conference record to 4-0, and give Mark Dantonio's team a two-game lead along with a critical head-to-head tiebreaker. Furthermore, MSU has already battled through the heavy part of their conference schedule: Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Sparty’s final four games after Nebraska feature Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, and Northwestern. They’d certainly be favored in at least two of those games, if not all four.

Simply put, there is almost no way the Huskers could claim the division over the Michigan State unless the Spartans suffer a major meltdown against one or both of the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders. This leaves the only conceivable path to the championship game via a three-way tie with Michigan State and Iowa with all teams having 6-2 conference records.

For this strategy to be beneficial to Bo Pelini's boys, Nebraska would need to win out and need Michigan State to lose two more games, including one to Iowa. The Huskers would then need Iowa to win out until losing the Heroes Game in Lincoln on Black Friday. That would generate a three-way tie at the top of the Legends Division standings.

The teams would be tied in all various tiebreakers, ultimately requiring the use of BCS rankings to break the tie. Nebraska will have won four straight and have the longest amount of time since its last loss, giving the Huskers a reasonable shot at being the highest ranked team in amongst the three.

Unless the Huskers are willing to let Iowa and Michigan State control their destiny, it’s critical that they win on Saturday. With a win, Nebraska will have the inside track to the Legends Division. Despite the cliché, that makes this game the very definition of a key game.

The coaching staff should be pulling out all of the exotic blitzes, trick plays and wrinkles in their playbook. The Diamond formation should see extensive use. One would assume the short passes and screens used against Minnesota are in preparation for the attacking and blitzing defense of Sparta’s Own.

If Nebraska loses, the Huskers will face a harsh reality that their goals for the season are likely unattainable, despite only losing to two Top 15 teams. With four regular season games remaining in the season, the Huskers would look to begin playing youth, building for 2012 and beyond.

At the beginning of this season, many Husker fans had Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan circled on the calendar as games that would make or break the Big Red. In the end, the team from East Lansing will be the one to define Nebraska’s inaugural Big Ten season.

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Tags: taylor martinez, bo pelini, michigan state, bcs

Comments (10)

Profile image for HuskerLockerLocker Pass member

“We just have to take each game one at a time. It doesn’t matter if we lose this game. Michigan State might lose to someone else. This doesn’t have to be a key game for us.”

An alternative:

"We take every game seriously. It doesn't matter who we play, it's a big game."

To dust off an old chestnut, this isn't chess...

– Oct 28, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Profile image for Husker25

He is still a young player put into a very stressful leadership role. He was probably asked a question about the severity of the game and he was trying to keep the pressure down and keep himself focused on the game and not the hype. It doesn't mean he is taking this game any less serious than need be. He knows how serious it is and will play his ass off either way.

– Oct 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Profile image for Otispit

No wonder this team lacks greatness-----their leader is a moron!!!
Compare his eloquence with Russell Wilson's.
His lack of concern is reflected in the play of the offense---he makes them worse, not better.

– Oct 26, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Profile image for clevelandhusker

Public speaking is not this kids strongest suit. So why do they continue to let him speak? We were better off last year when we heard almost nothing from him. Less is more.

– Oct 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Profile image for gerry

Bulletin board and team meeting material for MSU for sure. Taylor needs to focus on the game, practice and living up to his ideas of who he is. MSU is not a team to give this kind of statement to for motivation. This is a big game with big pressures. Some of TMagic's public comments about MSU defense this week will motivate them teach him respect. Rex and Jared should take him aside and ask him what the heck he was thinking putting this in to the public "air" during an already tense week.

– Oct 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Profile image for Brian_TowleLocker Pass member

Sorry, not buying that Taylor is "just trying to defuse the stress of this week". This is the second time in about a month he's said not bright stuff at a presser. Once I can buy, twice, not so much. If you're so worried about him talking at a presser, don't have him talk at pressers, problem solved.

– Oct 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Profile image for GDHUSKER

Taylor's just trying to defuse the stress of this week....he knows what's at stake (Q-bks are reasonably intelligent)...it doesn't have to be spelled out....this is an absolute game...period. Bo knows it and so do the players....all they can do is their best and hope for a mental and emotional letdown by the Spartys!!!

– Oct 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Profile image for huskerfinatic5

I 'm not blowing Martinez statement out of proportion. He probably is trying to make this game come to him as easily as possible. Maybe he doesn't want all the hype to build up like the Wisconsin game and so forth. So I'm not worried. Definitely a critical game. Nebraska is the 4 point favorite but it might come down to the last play for us just like it did for Sparty last weekend. I'm real excited about it. Its a B1G opportunity for us to fully seize control of our own destiny! GBR!! smile image

– Oct 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Profile image for SONOFLY

Chalk that up to a kid mispeaking cuz he's nervous in front of cameras.The coach probably told him something simmilar to take some pressure off, but it is strange, vintage TMagicsmile image

– Oct 26, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Profile image for HUSKERJL24

Why would taylor Martinez say that in the first place? I am a Curnhusker since birth and i have never heard anyone affiliated with any Husker team say we can afford to lose anything! I was raised to understand that winning is good and losing is bad! As our starting QB he should not have a thought like that anywhere in his head! Really disturbing to hear...JL24

– Oct 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm

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