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Tom's Tailgate Takes: Michigan State starts most important stretch of Nebraska's season
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Tom's Tailgate Takes: Michigan State starts most important stretch of Nebraska's season

Sam dishes on his three keys for the Huskers vs Michigan State.

Tailgate Takes:

Three games. Three opportunities.

Nebraska has eight games left in the season. But I’m doubling down that the next three weeks are the most important stretch of the year.

The Huskers, 2-2, could be 5-2 or 2-5. We'd take 4-3. That means winning two of the next three games — at Michigan State and Northwestern and Michigan at home.

Anything less than four wins means a long uphill climb to a bowl, with Minnesota, Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa left.

Some of these are 50-50 games you would expect Scott Frost to be able to win by his fourth year of building.

He’s got a Big Ten defense and his quarterback is playing the way you’d want a fourth-year quarterback to play. Adrian Martinez is making plays.

But NU still doesn’t have a reliable run game or special teams. And penalties figure to be more costly in the Big Ten. Not a good formula for winning Big Ten games.

More Tailgate Takes for the weekend:

» You see it in college football every year.

Some teams know how to win games. Some teams seem to know how to lose games.

How do you get from one to the other?

I sought an expert this week: Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, who played for Iowa from 1998-2002.

That was the beginning of the Kirk Ferentz Era. Chinander, then an offensive lineman, was with Ferentz when he went 1-10, 3-9, 7-5 and finally 11-2 in 2002, tying for the Big Ten title and playing in the Orange Bowl.

So how did the Hawkeyes do it? Is there one game that changed the team? One play? One player?

“You have to get a little taste of success,” Chinander said. “Whether that’s 6-6 or 7-5 and going to a bowl game. The next season it’s kind of expected and it gets a little better and better.

“It’s kind of a culmination. You get stuck in the feeling on Sundays and Mondays that you just lost a game, whether it’s by a little or a lot. It’s kind of the same old thing. Until it’s not.

“Then it feels really good. And then you want that again.”

Chinander didn’t reveal any secret. And that’s the point.

There’s no formula to switching from losing to winning, no secret to learning how to win close games.

Every group of players and coaches must figure it out for themselves.

It takes discipline and playmaking and confidence. Where does confidence come from? From winning.

At some point, Nebraska players — young and old — are going to have to put their foot down and go do it. It’s going to happen.

Chinander's defense is the kind of group that could light the spark.

Is Saturday the night?

» What a week for Omar Manning.

Nice game at Oklahoma. Then he met the media twice and disclosed his background and challenges with mental health.

Manning might have gotten a weight off his shoulders last week. Can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

» Michigan State will honor Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz, the Michigan State and Nebraska punters who died in a car accident five years ago. Fans might also see a helmet that is making the rounds in East Lansing: half green and half red and white, with the Foltz and Sadler numbers on each side.

I know the world doesn’t need another rivalry trophy, but it would be cool if that helmet made it to the game whenever NU and MSU play.

» Game I’m going to watch: Notre Dame and Wisconsin would make for a great home-and-home series on the campuses but this one feels right in Chicago, too.

This will be Notre Dame's 13th game in Soldier Field and it’s always a big deal when the Irish play Chicago. But this feels extra big for Wisconsin to avoid falling to 1-2. Throw in Jack Coan facing his old team and the quarterback who replaced him, and pass the popcorn.

» My Pick: Everyone circled Oklahoma but Michigan State is the biggest game for Nebraska to date.

The Blackshirts are big enough and good enough to slow down Kenneth Walker, but can NU’s offensive line get anything done against MSU? Michigan State 31, Nebraska 21


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