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
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
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.
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