Each week during the season, BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman and a featured guest will debate a topic related to Big Ten football. This week’s question: If you were a Big Ten coach, would you rather have Nebraska’s offense or Michigan State’s defense.
Given both Eric and Sean’s collegiate backgrounds, these answers may surprise you.
Sean Merriman: This is a tough call, but I’m going to go with Nebraska’s offense. Remember, these two teams had the same issues last season when they met in early November. Taylor Martinez came into East Lansing and beat MSU, 28-24, in Spartan Stadium. That game helped propel the Huskers to the B1G Championship Game, and essentially ended MSU’s conference title hopes. I know they say defense wins championships, but that argument certainly didn’t hold true in this matchup last season.
Eric Crouch: I am taking Michigan State’s defense because they are so physical and assignment sound. This defense is able to stop the run, which many Big Ten teams cannot do. When it comes to lowering the pads and delivering a blow, each player on that defense brings it. I enjoy the smash mouth style and the relentless effort to the ball, and this year shouldn’t be any different. Without an emerging leader from MSU at the quarterback position, the “kicker” for this decision to choose Michigan State’s defense is simple, their turnover margin is better than that of Nebraska’s offense.
[ MORE: Will Nebraska's defense finally step up? ]
SM: Valid point. No doubt, Michigan State’s defense can stop the run. But that is what makes this Nebraska offense so unique is that they aren’t just one dimensional. Martinez is a much-improved passer and Kenny Bell is one of the top receivers not only in the Big Ten, but throughout the entire country. Don’t get me wrong, Nebraska is a run-first offense, but the Huskers’ have so many ways to beat you on the offensive end. They have speed with Ameer Abdullah, power with Imani Cross, and a dual-threat quarterback in Martinez. Turnovers are important, of course, but what you do after those turnovers is what matters. MSU went the entire 2012 season without scoring a single defensive touchdown. Of course, they scored two in their Week 1 win against Western Michigan, but can you rely on that on a weekly basis? I don’t think so.
EC: Nebraska puts up some amazing numbers offensively, I must agree. But what’s most important here is we don’t forget about how Michigan State’s defense can score too. Just last week Jairus Jones intercepted a ball which he lateraled back to Kurtis Drummond for a TD. Talk about a super athlete. Later in the fourth quarter, Shilique Calhoun returned a fumble recovery and dashed his way for a score. Not only does the stout Spartan defense stop the run, but they play offense as well by adding ticks to the scoreboard. Trust me, when your offense is sitting on the sideline sipping Gatorade and the defense scores, it’s really exciting and will be a game changer.
SM: Michigan State’s defense can put up points, but you can’t expect them to have multiple scores in every game this season, right? Especially not in B1G play. Outside of Ohio State, Wisconsin, and maybe Michigan, what other teams in the Big Ten can put up 35-plus points in conference play? The only other one I can think of is Nebraska. And keep in mind that the Huskers skip both Ohio State and Wisconsin this season. Looking at this schedule, it’s very reasonable to think that Nebraska could go 8-0 in Big Ten play, even if they give up an average of 28-plus points-per-game. That would put them in the B1G title game, which is the ultimate goal, right?
EC: The B1G title game is the ultimate goal. However, let’s not forget how important a defense is to the mix. Last year, Nebraska gave up 70 points in the B1G Championship, and 500-plus yards in the run game. Michigan State’s defense would provide experience given five players have thee years of starting experience at their positions. Leadership will not be a problem for this Spartan D. Nebraska has struggled defensively putting their offense in hairy situations. Long fields to play with. Not enough three-and-outs. It’s hard to find a rhythm or consistency offensively when those disasters happen. On the contrary, Sparty’s defense will score, create turnovers, allow good field position, play with high energy and lead Michigan State. I never thought I would hear myself say this, but defense wins championships.
SM: A former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback telling me that “defense wins championships!” I thought I’d never hear that come out of your mouth. I’d also never think I’d hear myself argue against my alma mater, MSU. Could you imagine how dominant of a team you would have if you could combine the Spartans’ defense with the Huskers’ offense? Ahh, well, we can always dream, right?
Tell us which unit you’d rather have below.
|About Sean Merriman||BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman covers football and men’s basketball and provides original content for BTN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BTNSean.|