Previewing MSU vs. Nebraska

Eric Francis

Game time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
TV: ABC/ESPN2
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
Online Streaming: WatchESPN.com (subject to blackout)

Game Week Q&A: Here
Forecast: 65 degrees, isolated T-storms, 30 percent chance of rain
Line: MSU -6

After a bye week, MSU travels to Lincoln looking for its first-ever win against Nebraska and looking to take a two-game lead in the Legends division.

Nebraska defeated Northwestern on a Hail Mary two weeks ago and won at Michigan last week scoring a touchdown with a few minutes to play. The Huskers are barely hanging on, but they control their destiny in the Legends. Taylor Martinez, who shredded the MSU defense a year ago, is out, possibly for the season.

A win would give MSU a two-game lead with two to play, clinching a share of the division, but not the championship game spot. A loss wouldn't be the end, but MSU would need Nebraska to lose one of its final two games.

By the numbers

4.0 - Yards per carry allowed by Nebraska's defense, No. 57 nationally. Michigan averaged -0.6 ypc last week.

7.6 - Tackles for loss per game by Nebraska's defense, No. 12 nationally.

6 - Interceptions thrown by Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr., compared to five touchdowns.

6.5 - Yards per carry for Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah.

72.7% - Nebraska's touchdown rate in the red zone, No. 19 nationally

27.1% - Third down conversion percentage allowed by Nebraska, No. 3 nationally.

-3 - Nebraska's turnover margin, including two giveaways per game.

1 - MSU's defensive ranking in yards per carry (1.6), yards per attempt (4.9), third down percentage (26.1) and other stats.

0.779 - Yards per attempt on throws at Darqueze Dennard, perhaps the lowest number since Deion Sanders.

36 - Days it will have been since MSU last allowed a touchdown when the teams kick off.

Three keys for MSU

Stop the option run - A year ago, Martinez ran for 205 yards on 17 carries while Abdullah had 110 on 22. Armstrong doesn't have the speed of Martinez, instead being more shifty. But with Armstrong completing 55 percent of his passes and throwing more INTs than TDs, MSU's defense will need to remain stout against the run.

Run the ball - With the weather not looking good, MSU's ability to run with Jeremy Langford and Delton Williams will be important. Langford was not very effective against Michigan until his 40-yard run late in the game.

Convert third downs - Against Illinois, MSU was 14-for-16 (including a kneel) and against Michigan, MSU was 9-for-18. Nebraska is No. 3 in allowing third downs at 27.1 percent. MSU's gets itself in a lot of third downs because of a lack of big plays, and they'll need to convert them.

Three keys for Nebraska

Turnovers - The Husker offense has been limited since Martinez went down, and giving away any possessions in a bad spot would be costly. On the other hand, picking up some turnovers and turning those into points could go a long way.

Get to the second level - In the option offense, the linemen will need to block linebackers so Armstrong to Abdullah can get into the secondary and break out for a big play. Teams aren't going to move down the field slowly against MSU's defense. You need big plays.

Put MSU in long down-and-distance - Nebraska is getting 7.6 tackles for loss per game, while MSU is allowing just 4.1. Part of the reason MSU is so good on third down recently is because they're manageable situations. If Nebraksa can get into the backfield to stop the run, it puts more pressure on MSU's passing game.

Prediction: MSU 21-14

Lincoln is a tough place to play for anyone, and Memorial Stadium is going to be raucous, because this is a big one. Getting off to a good start to quiet the crowd would be advised, but Nebraska fans also know they're never out of a game. We're not quite sure how the weather will be, but it's going to be windy, and it could be rainy. In that case, Nebraska has had the better rushing offense, but MSU has the better rushing defense. A turnover or two could be the difference in the game, but I think MSU's offense does enough, and the defense holds on for the win.

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