Game Day: Nebraska vs. Michigan State

How not to lose

How does Nebraska avoid another crushing loss in a marquee moment on the big stage? Coach Bo Pelini says it’s quite simple, really. “You can’t beat yourself,” he said. The most pertinent question: To beat Michigan State, what do the Huskers need to avoid doing?

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2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Michigan State rush defense

The Huskers have more than 1,000 yards rushing in their last three games, so they arrive in East Lansing with a head of steam. But they will encounter a Michigan State defense that is allowing just 2.8 yards per carry — helped by 15 sacks — and 2.0 if you take out the Oregon game. NU will look for more development from its offensive line and to keep Ameer Abdullah rolling.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Michigan State pass defense

Nebraska has thrown just 58 passes in its last three games because of the success running the ball. But quarterback Tommy Armstrong is going to have to make some throws, and against a defense allowing opponents to complete just 51.7 percent of their passes. Armstrong will get some receivers in man-to-man coverage with the MSU cornerbacks, but time could be an issue if defensive ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush aren't neutralized.

Michigan State rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Michigan State has been efficient and used its run game to set up the pass. Although the Spartans lost at Oregon, tailback Jeremy Langford worked hard for 86 yards and a touchdown. Nebraska has been decent so far, allowing 108.4 yards per game, but some holes have still materialized that it better find a way to close. You also wonder about the absence of Michael Rose at middle linebacker being more visible in Big Ten play.

Michigan State pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Nebraska got its first taste of Connor Cook last November when he was just scratching the surface of where he is now nine games later. The junior leads the Big Ten and ranks No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency, and throws to an underrated receiving corps led by Tony Lippett (22 receptions, six TDs). The Huskers have given up 620 passing yards the last two weeks, but also intercepted five passes.

Special teams

Nebraska has a little bit of everything going for it, leading the Big Ten in net punting (43.7 yards) and kickoff touchbacks (24), decent success on field goals (Drew Brown at 7 of 9) and the newfound threat on punt returns (De'Mornay Pierson-El averaging 14.1 yards). Michigan State is decent everywhere, with its biggest return threat being R.J. Shelton on kickoffs (27.6 average).

Intangibles

Take a closer look at Michigan State and the Spartans are good in a lot of areas other than just offensive and defensive statistics. They regularly possess the ball longer than their opponents, keep their penalty numbers down and are currently well ahead of the Big Ten field in turnover margin (plus nine). Throw those in with the home crowd and last year's win over Nebraska and some things start to add up.

Key matchup: NU offensive line vs. MSU defensive ends

It will be a major challenge Saturday night for Nebraska offensive tackles Alex Lewis and Zach Sterup as they go against Michigan State defensive ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush. Calhoun was a second-team All-American in 2013 and Rush is a fourth-year starter, and they have combined for 24 career sacks.

Our take

Michigan State has gotten fat offensively against outmanned opponents the last two weeks, but what if the Spartans are actually getting that good with the football? It's a scary thought not only for Nebraska but the rest of the Big Ten chasing them, because you know the defense is always going to be a factor. That said, Nebraska has its offense on a roll, too, so the teams could trade a few punches before a prime-time ABC audience. It might just come down to who lands the last one or the biggest one.

Our prediction: Michigan State 35, Nebraska 30

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Game notes

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