Nebraska-MSU grades: Huskers WRs exploit Spartans DBs
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Nebraska’s 39-38 victory over Michigan State:
–Being down hurt on the turf twice in this game didn’t stop wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (+2.4) from making a significant contribution for the Cornhuskers, setting the stage for fellow wide receiver Brandon Reilly (+2.1) to seal a thrilling come from behind win for Nebraska. Westerkamp and Reilly gained a combined 186 of their 230 on deep passes, consistently beating Michigan State’s corners to the ball when QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. put his passes up for grabs.
–Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. (-6.6) really benefited from the plays his receivers made down the field, rescuing some very poor passing in the intermediate area that threatened to cost the Cornhuskers this game. Indeed, this held true right to the very end, with Michigan State CB Arjen Colquhoun dropping a badly forced pass that could have been a game-ending interception the play before Brandon Reilly’s game winner. On passes aimed 10 to 19 yards down the field, Armstrong completed only one of nine targets, with both of his interceptions contributing to a PFF passing grade of -5.5 on intermediate targets.
–Before the start of the season our very own Steve Palazzolo labeled Cornhuskers’ safety Nate Gerry one of the ten best returning players in the Big Ten. Last night’s performance (+0.1) showed both why he earned that praise and why he has failed to live up to that billing so far this season. A physical display of run defense (+2.9) with five tackles and two stops was paired with a game of pass defense (-2.7) where he was consistently a step away from being in the right place at the right time. This marked Gerry’s third straight game with a negative coverage grade and his sixth in the last seven games.
C Ryne Reeves (+4.7)
DE Jack Gangwish (+4.1)
MLB Josh Banderas (+2.5)
WR Jordan Westerkamp (+2.4)
WR Brandon Reilly (+2.1)
Michigan State Spartans
–The play of quarterback Connor Cook was very up and down. Just like Armstrong on the opposite sideline, Cook got away with a dire throw late in the third quarter and was bailed out by the defense not making the play. But he followed it up with a touchdown exploiting a coverage bust on the very next play. As with much of Cook’s play in the last couple of seasons, there were some excellent throws on display in this game, but they were paired with worrying accuracy and decision-making that have left us questioning his progress prior to his most recent three-game stretch, which was outstanding.
–Cook’s supporting cast has been limited to outstanding wide receiver Aaron Burbridge (+3.8) for much of this season, but last night Macgarrett Kings Jr. (+2.9) stood up to be counted with his highest-graded game of the last two seasons. Snagging a pair of scores, Kings collected all of his yards between the numbers with a couple of big gains on post routes, and his first touchdown on a crossing route in which he exploited poor angles by Nebraska defenders for a 34-yard score.
–With Tommy Armstrong Jr. releasing 23 of his 34 passes in 2.5 seconds or less, it was a tough ask for Shilique Calhoun (+0.9) to bring meaningful pressure on the Nebraska quarterback, and this was highlighted no better than on the game-winning touchdown. Calhoun beat Nebraska RT Nick Gates inside for his eighth pressure of the game (one hit, seven hurries), knocking down Armstrong after he’d already released the pass, as Brandon Reilly worked his way back infield to snag the decisive score on what was something of a controversial call.
WR Aaron Burbridge (+3.8)
LT Jack Conklin (+3.1)
WR Macgarrett Kings Jr. (+2.9)
CB Arjen Colquhoun (+2.4)
RB Gerald Holmes (+2.3)