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Previewing MSU vs. Nebraska

Looking at interesting numbers and keys to Saturday's game.

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Eric Francis

Game Time: 3:30 PM
Location: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.
TV: ABC (ESPN2 mirror)
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
Online streaming: (subject to blackout)
Opponent Blog: Corn Nation
Game Week Q&A: Here
Tickets: Here
Forecast: 46 degrees, sunny
Line: Nebraska -1.5

After a stunning win at Wisconsin, the Spartans return "home" for a big matchup with Nebraska. I put home in quotes because tickets to Saturday's game are cheaper than $10 on StubHub. I'm expecting a putrid turnout from MSU fans, and the Sea of Red will make this feel like a neutral-site game.

But I digress. MSU is mathematically eligible for the Legends division title, but reaching bowl eligibility and finishing the season strong would be good for a young Spartan team, and another nationally televised game is a good opportunity to show the country the Spartans aren't dead. Then again, shots of a home crowd full of Nebraska fans wouldn't be a good look.

Nebraska's season to date (6-2, 3-1): W 49-20 vs. Southern Miss, L 36-30 at UCLA, W 42-13 vs. Arkansas State, W 73-7 vs. Idaho State, W 30-27 vs. Wisconsin, L 63-38 vs. Ohio State, W 29-28 at Northwestern, W 23-9 vs. Michigan

By the numbers:

39.2: Points per game for Nebraska, which leads the Big Ten and is No. 18 in the nation.

489.1: Yards per game for Nebraska, which leads the Big Ten and is No. 15 in the nation.

15.0: Points per game allowed by MSU, which leads the Big Ten and is No. 10 in the nation.

267.4: Yards per game allowed by MSU, which leads the Big Ten and is No. 5 in the nation.

42.3: Points per game allowed by Nebraska in three road games this season.

15.0: Points per game scored by MSU in five home games this season.

-8: Nebraska's turnover margin on the season, including 12 gained and 20 lost. This is worst in the Big Ten.

176.2: Rushing yards per game allowed by Nebraska, which is No. 9 in the Big Ten.

131.2: Rushing yards per game for MSU, which is last in the Big Ten

0-6: MSU's all-time record against Nebraska, spanning 99 years.

37: Total points scored by MSU over those six games, including 14 in 1996.

Three keys for MSU

Pass to set up the run: I talked about this in the Wisconsin recap, but MSU cannot win a game with the rushing attack anymore. Defenses are stacking the box, and as a result, MSU is the worst rushing team in the conference. Against Wisconsin, MSU found some success on drives when passing more on first down or running out of the shotgun. The offensive line is a liability, so keep as many defenders away as possible. I'm not saying go five-wide, go with short and medium passes for Andrew Maxwell with the rushing game mixed in. Give him a chance to find a rhythm.

Touchdowns, not field goals: Too often at home, MSU has reached the red zone and sputtered. Against Wisconsin, we know they got themselves out of field goal range in one of the worst drives you'll ever see. Nebraska can put up points, so you can't just rely on the defense to win the game. Give them some help. MSU has only scored multiple touchdowns in two home games. Get in the end zone.

Make the Huskers one-dimensional: We all like to make fun of Taylor Martinez's passing motion, but the Huskers are the No. 4 passing offense in the conference, and Martinez is the most efficient passer. On the other side, Nebraska also has the top rushing attack in the conference. Is one of those good enough to win the game on its own? Let's find out.

Three keys for Nebraska:

Run the ball: Just mentioned above, the Huskers are a great rushing team. If they can run the ball, it will give Martinez more opportunities to attack one-on-one coverage in the passing game. This includes Martinez's rushing abilities, and the availability of injured Rex Burkhead would help.

Pressure the quarterback: MSU's offensive line is a mess. If Maxwell doesn't have any time to throw, they won't be able to do anything on offense. We already know they can barely run the ball.

Turnovers: Also mentioned above, the Huskers have the worse turnover margin in the Big Ten. It's such an issue that every writer from Corn Nation listed it as a huge key to the game. MSU hasn't been great at forcing turnovers, but in a game that could be low-scoring, a turnover in a bad spot could be the difference.

Prediction: 17-13 MSU

I see this playing out like just about every MSU game. Who makes the key play or stop at the end? The Cornhuskers offense is coming off an underwhelming performance against Michigan (326 yards, 23 points) and MSU's defense is better. A year ago, MSU gave up just 270 yards to Nebraska, but wore down on some drives.

While Nebraska's defense has struggled mightily on the road, that doesn't mean it's going to be easy for a rough MSU offense. I'll believe it when I see it. But, like every MSU game, this stays low-scoring, and the Spartans come up with a big play at the end to reach bowl eligibility.

Now seriously, go buy some tickets for the whole family. It's like getting a Hot-n-Ready.