Game Day: Nebraska vs. Michigan State

Can the Huskers survive gang green?

When asked this week about Michigan State's aggressiveness, quarterback Tommy Armstrong provided a glimpse into his mentality: "First of all," he said, "if you blitz, obviously, somebody's going to be open." NU coach Bo Pelini said Armstrong won't be intimidated. But Armstrong, Pelini and the rest of the Huskers are aware that moving the football against the Spartans will not be easy.

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2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Michigan State rush defense

The Spartans have the nation’s best run defense, giving up just 43 yards per game. That’s chemistry and commitment on display for defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio’s bunch. Nebraska counters with one of the nation’s best running backs in Ameer Abdullah and a budding option game with Tommy Armstrong. But the offensive line is beat up. Advantage: Michigan State

Nebraska pass offense vs. Michigan State pass defense

Did we mention Nebraska’s offensive line is beat up? So too are the wide receivers, to some extent, and they are charged with getting open against what many consider the best secondary in the Big Ten. Armstrong pulled NU through the fire at Michigan, but he’s been inconsistent. Michigan State’s blitzes are nasty. Advantage: Michigan State

Michigan State rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

NU’s run defense has turned a corner in the past two weeks, and Michigan State doesn’t have the line nor the great running backs to turn the Huskers back. Spartan running back Jeremy Langford is no Le’Veon Bell, and he’s a slow starter. The Spartans abandon the run often too easily. Advantage: Nebraska

Michigan State pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Connor Cook is just settling into the starting quarterback role. He’s mobile enough and has a big arm. He completes 60 percent of his passes and doesn’t make a ton of mistakes. The Husker secondary has seasoned corners in Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Ciante Evans and Joshua Mitchell. MSU is about one year away from having a decent receiving corps. Advantage: Nebraska

Special teams

Michigan State punter Mike Sadler is second in the Big Ten in yards per punt. Nebraska counters with strong kick and punt coverage units. The Huskers are a weekly adventure in returning punts. The Spartans are awful returning kickoffs. Advantage: Michigan State

Intangibles

Michigan State has a plus-9 edge in turnover margin. The Spartans are the league’s most penalized team, and NU’s the second most. The Huskers will have home-field advantage, and apparently the niceness of the fans threw off Michigan State last time. Nebraska is fighting for its life in terms of a Big Ten title berth. Advantage: Nebraska

Key matchup: Connor Cook vs. Nebraska's defense

We’re counting on Michigan State’s defense being terrific and Nebraska’s offense picking its spots. So the game boils down to whether the Husker defense can continue its recent streak of shutting down the opponent. This is the biggest game of Cook’s young career. NU needs to rattle him.

Nebraska wins if ...

It picks off Cook, grabs an early lead and plays into the crowd noise on defense. Nebraska defensive coaches like their matchups against the Spartans.

Michigan State wins if ...

Its defense does its usual thing and forces a few turnovers and Cook controls the clock with a short-range, safe passing game.

Our take

Nebraska has shown a ton of heart and toughness for managing its injuries as well as it has, and quarterback Tommy Armstrong has a bright future. But this game is defined by the Husker defense. Can they match Michigan State’s bunch? We think they will well enough for a rare upset win at home.

Our prediction: Nebraska 16, Michigan State 14

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Listen: BRT Podcast

In this week’s edition of “The Big Red Today Podcast,” Jon Nyatawa and Sam McKewon examine how Nebraska’s now-inexperienced offense will try to move the ball against a statistically dominant Michigan State defense. The good news: The Huskers have been successful against Michigan State in the past. Click here »

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