Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan on October 30, 2011 · Page F3
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Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan · Page F3

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Sunday, October 30, 2011
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SUNDAY, OCT.30,2011 WWW.FREEP.COM 3F x x NEBRASKA 24, MICHIGAN STATE 3 THE BLITZ MICHAEL ROSENBERG HANDICAPS THE LEGENDS DIVISION RACE L INCOLN, Neb. — Michigan State finished its October walk through the Big Ten fire with a 3-1record: wins over Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, and Saturday’s loss to Nebraska. After the Nebraska game, a reporter asked coach Mark Dantonio whether he would have taken a 3-1October record before the season. “It is tough to take it right now,” Dantonio said. “You want to be excellent. You want to point to excellence. So I’m not going to answer that. It wouldn’t be fair to our football team. We work for excellence. We strive for excellence.” I’m sure Dantonio didn’t realize it, but the wall to his right had UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE written on it. Welcome to the Big Ten Legends Division, where excellence is excellent, and three teams excel at it. Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska are tied atop the division. Iowa had a chance to join them, but the Hawkeyes lost to Minnesota. Don’t ask me how. I’m waiting for the forensics report. Who will win the division? Well, if you close your eyes and let me read your palms … no, come on, don’t do that. You don’t even know me. I might steal your wallet or something. Idon’t know who will win. (Also, I’ve never stolen a wallet.) But here is a list of contenders. I’m putting them in order, starting with the team most likely to earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game. 1. Nebraska The Cornhuskers get the edge because they control their destiny. They have beaten Michigan State and own that tiebreaker. However, Nebraska has a tough finishing stretch: Northwestern, at Penn State, at Michigan and vs. Iowa. Northwestern’s defense is made of used tissue paper, so the Cornhuskers should beat the Wildcats. But it will be tough for Nebraska to win all four. Two are road games, and Nebraska does not have the passing game to take advantage of Iowa’s weak secondary. ANebraska loss would open the door for … 2. Michigan State The Spartans should probably be 1A on this list because of their remaining schedule. It is very favorable. Two games look like gimmes: Minnesota and Indiana at home. The chances of Minnesota winning two straight Big Ten games are roughly the same as the chances of Lindsay Lohan winning two straight presidential elections. And Indiana is two counties past awful right now. The other games are at Iowa and at Northwestern. Michigan State’s passing game was not good Saturday, to put it kindly, but the Spartans should be able to pass easily against the Hawkeyes and Wildcats. Michigan State has a great chance at a 4-0 finish, and that would shut out … 3. Michigan The Wolverines are 7-1, but they lost to MSU, which means one of two scenarios must occur. A. They must win out and MSU must lose. B. They must go 3-1in their final four (presumably with a win over Nebraska), and MSU must lose twice. I don’t see either scenario unfolding. Michigan plays two tough road games (at Iowa, at Illinois) before finishing with Nebraska and Ohio State at home. A 4-0 record in that stretch is unlikely. The guess here is that the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes for the first time since 2003, then watch Michigan State or Nebraska play Wisconsin in the conference title game. CONTACT MICHAEL ROSENBERG AT 313-222-6052 OR MROSENBERG@FREEPRESS.COM. Nebraska in catbird seat, but MSU could pass ’Huskers The road to Indy Three teams — Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska — are tied at 3-1in the Big Ten’s Legends Division. Here’s a look at their schedules over the final four weeks of the regular season: MICHIGAN Saturday: At Iowa Nov. 12: At Illinois Nov. 19: Nebraska Nov. 26: Ohio State MICHIGAN STATE Saturday: Minnesota Nov. 12: At Iowa Nov. 19: Indiana Nov. 26: At Northwestern NEBRASKA Saturday: Northwestern Nov. 12: At Penn State Nov. 19: At Michigan Nov. 25: Iowa One-sided series The Spartans have never defeated the Cornhuskers. Here are the scores from their six meetings: *ALAMO BOWL, SAN ANTONIO 2003* 17-3 2011 24-3 1996 55-14 1995 50-10 1920 35-7 1914 24-0 LINCOLN, Neb. —Michigan State sophomore linebacker Kyl- erElsworth was forced into duty Saturday against Nebraska, after earning Big Ten special- teams player of the week Monday. Elsworth finished with a career-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble in a 24-3 loss to the Corn- huskers at Memorial Stadium. The Spartans began the day without starting star linebacker Chris Norman, who apparently suffered a sprained shoulder in last week’s win against Wisconsin. Norman spoke to reporters Tuesday night, never indicating he was injured. “Didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday,” coach Mark Dantonio said of Norman. “Just felt like — let that be his call. He really couldn’t lift his arm on Tuesday when he practiced. Just got to give him time to heal, but he should be ready next week.” Steve Gardiner, who played in place of Norman, was one of several players injured during the game, and that forced Elsworth into extra playing time for the No.9 Spartans (6-2, 3-1Big Ten). “Just like anyone, you step in for the first time in a big game knowing you’re going to play basically the rest of the game, and it’s a little overwhelming,” Elsworth said. “But after the first series goes through, you kind of get your feet on the ground and you know what you’ve got to do and you’ve got to get it done.” He would have rather finished with a win than double digits in tackles. “You always want to get a lot of tackles, but in the end it doesn’t matter who gets the tackles — you want the W,” Els- worth said. “That’s what we’re working for as a team. Tackles don’t really mean much if you don’t get the win.” Elsworth said he got about half the reps in practice this week, working entirely with backup linebackers. Elsworth disagreed with the notion that the defense was tired and battered in the second half, giving up two third-quarter touchdowns. “They came out and ran some plays that worked for them,” Elsworth said of Nebraska. “We came out and did some things that hurt ourselves. We had a lot on third down, and some penalties kept them in it. Not to take anything away from their offense, but we did hurt ourselves in the second half.” MSU defense Elsworth gets 10 tackles filling in at linebacker By GEORGE SIPPLE FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER DAVE WEAVER/Associated Press Michigan State defenders, including Kyler Elsworth, right, swarm Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez on Saturday. LINCOLN, Neb. —Kirk Cousins finished with 86 yards passingSaturday, the lowest total in his career as Michigan State’s starting quarterback. The Spartans were held to a season-low 187yards of offense in a 24-3 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Michigan State hadn’t been held to three points since the 2003 Alamo Bowl. The Spartans lost, 17-3, to the Cornhuskers in that game, too, when Bo Pelini was interim coach. Michigan State is 0-6 against Nebraska. The latest loss was their first meeting as Big Ten foes. Cousins completed 11of 27 passes, and his interception in the first quarter led to Nebraska’s first touchdown. Cousins was sacked fourtimes by a defense that entered the game with nine all season. “I thought Nebraska came out and played very well defensively,” said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. “They took the routes away from us downfield and doubled a bit with the safeties. They took us out of some things and got pressure on the quarterback.” B.J. Cunningham didn’t have a catch, snapping a 41-game streak of games at least one reception. Dion Sims dropped a pass on what would have been a long gain in the first half. And Cousins was fortunate to not have more turnovers. Keshawn Martin, who had scored four touchdowns in the previous two games, had five catches for 58 yards for the Spartans. “We never got in a rhythm,” Cousins said. “First off, we have to give credit to Nebraska. They had great coverage. They did a nice job covering us in space, and I think they have great athletes that do that. We had a hard time getting separation. At times, we made plays and moved the ball, but we never came away with the number of points we needed.” Rex Burkhead scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 1-yard run with 9:12 left in the first quarter. The ’Huskers added a 20- yard field goal with 1:21left in the quarter for a10-0 lead. Michigan State scored on Dan Conroy’s 28-yard field goal with 1:38 left in the second quarter, cutting Nebraska’s lead to 10-3. Aweek after having no penalties in a 37-31 win over then-No.4 Wisconsin, the Spartans had nine for 90 yards against the Cornhusk- ers. Sophomore cornerback Darqueze Dennard had a personal foul on Nebraska’s first offensive drive of the second half and a pass interference penalty on Nebraska’s second drive of the quarter. Both drives ended with Burkhead touchdowns, a 1-yard run and a 27- yard catch. Jerel Worthy had an offside penalty on a third-and-3 on the second drive. “It’s disappointing when you have unforced penalties,” Dantonio said. “Offsides penalty. Their hard count tried to get us to jump, but that’s part of the game, too. We had four or five of those. Too many.” The Spartans left Nebraska beaten and battered. They started without linebacker Chris Norman. Linebacker Steve Gardiner and running back Larry Caper left with injuries. “It was a very physical game on both sides,” Dantonio said. “There were a lot of guys getting dinged up out there. Credit Nebraska. Our guys need to remember their experience here.” Amonth that began with three huge wins, against Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, ended horribly for the Spartans. “This is about the long haul,” Dantonio said. “This isn’t about one game. All our goals are in front of us.” Spartans’ offense stalls in Lincoln ERIC FRANCIS/Getty Images MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins throws downfield against the Nebraska defense. Cousins was sacked four times Saturday and held to 86 yards passing. ’Huskers hold Cousins to career low, MSU to fewest points since 2003 By GEORGE SIPPLE FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

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