Blackshirts borrow from Steelers, suffocate Spartans

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Andrew Green, Austin Cassidy and Daimion Stafford combine to take down Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell.

Story by Chris Peters and photos by Morgan Spiehs, NewsNetNebraska

Nebraska’s red and white showed flashes of black and yellow Saturday afternoon, borrowing a scheme from the Pittsburgh Steelers en route to a 24-3 win over No. 9 Michigan State.

The Blackshirts spent a considerable amount of time with their defensive line standing in a two-point stance, then stunting and rushing in at Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“It caused kind of a confusion on their offensive line’s part,” defensive end Cameron Meredith said. “When people are moving around you don’t know what gaps they’re going to.”

Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini implemented the new scheme, inspired by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tuesday.

“When you have 53 plays and 200 yards of offense, you aren’t going to win a game usually,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said.

As a result, Nebraska held Michigan State to 187 yards and a field goal, a season-best for the Husker defense.

“We knew it was just a matter of time before we put together a complete game,” linebacker Will Compton said.

One of the biggest focuses for the Blackshirts, Compton said, was to double-cover MSU wide receiver BJ Cunningham. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who had a career-high three pass breakups, worked alongside safety Daimion Stafford to hold Cunningham to zero catches, which broke his streak of 41 consecutive games with a reception. Against Wisconsin last week, Cunningham caught six passes for 102 yards, his fourth 100-yard game of the season.

The key to shutting down the Spartans was preparation, said safety Austin Cassidy.

“It’s easy to defend a team when you know what they’re doing,” Cassidy said. “Judging by the formations they came out with and where their wide receivers were split, or down and distance, we knew exactly what was going to happen.”

The defense, which generated seven tackles for loss and seven pass breakups, earned its traditional and symbolic Blackshirts again. Pelini, who almost gave the defense their Blackshirts back before the game, celebrated with the team afterward, holding up a black practice jersey to congratulate the Blackshirts in the locker room.

“I think the defense as a whole is getting its confidence back,” said defensive back Lance Thorell, whose 26-yard interception set up the Huskers first touchdown in the first quarter. “When you’re confident, you don’t have to worry about making mistakes, you just worry about making plays.”

“I think our swagger’s back,” Dennard said.