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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans travel to Lincoln to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday, and look to bounce back after being soundly defeated by the Ohio State Buckeyes last week.

This weekend’s matchup in interesting because Nebraska has a high-flying offense, while Michigan State has a tough as nails defense. And quite the opposite on the other side of the matchup is true, as MSU’s offense has struggled to move the ball and put up points, while Nebraska’s defense, well, leaves a lot to be desired.

Preview mode commence:

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2018 Record — 6-4 (4-3 Big Ten)

Offense (per game basis)— 351.7 total yards, 233.3 passing yards, 118.4 rushing yards,

Defense (per game basis)— 327.2 yards allowed, 250.8 passing yards allowed, 76.5 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored (per game basis): 21.7
Cumulative Points Allowed (per game basis): 19.7

Current S&P+ Ranking: 32nd

2018 Record — 3-7 (2-5 Big Ten)

Offense (per game basis) — 482.6 total yards, 256.1 passing yards, 226.5 rushing yards

Defense (per game basis)— 449.4 yards allowed, 255.4 passing yards allowed, 194 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored (per game basis): 32.3
Cumulative Points Allowed (per game basis): 33.8

Current S&P+ Ranking: 56th

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Nebraska leads 8-2
Last Michigan State Win: Oct. 4, 2014 (27-22)
Last Nebraska Win: Nov. 7 2015 (39-38...I am still certain illegal touching should have been called on that late touchdown, but I digress)
Michigan State all-time record: 700-457-44
Nebraska all-time record: 896-387-40

Previous Game Results (Quick Hits Recap)

Ohio State 26, Michigan State 6
This game played out exactly how I thought it would. It was a close, hard-fought game throughout. Both defenses playing outstanding football and both offenses struggled to score points, until eventually MSU broke down late. Ohio State’s punter and special teams were the difference, though, as there was a stretch where Michigan State had to start inside its own six-yard-line on five straight possessions, and the Spartans lost the battle of field position all day long. Michigan State would give up a safety, followed by an Ohio State defensive touchdown after a fumble, and then OSU eventually added an offensive touchdown. It was an ugly game, but the Spartans had their opportunities thanks to the defense, but just couldn’t score points.

Nebraska is now on the clock:

Nebraska 54, Illinois 35

The Cornhuskers earned their third win in the past four weeks last Saturday against Illinois. It was the most points scored by Nebraska all season (by one), and the team posted an impressive 606 total yards, including 316 yards on the ground. The game was tied 14-14 late in the first quarter, but then the Huskers scored 17 straight points before Illinois scored again, and Nebraska’s offensive onslaught continued throughout the contest. It was a big day from running back Devine Ozigbo who had 162 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries. True freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez also had a great outing with 290 passing yards, 55 rushing yards and four total touchdowns.

In the first meeting between the two schools since Michigan State’s Mike Sadler and Nebraska’s Sam Foltz passed away, the two programs will honor the former players prior to kickoff at Memorial Stadium:

Key Matchups

Divine Ozigbo vs. Michigan State rush defense: Ozigbo is a bruising 235-pound running back that is averaging 7.5 yards per carry this season, and is just 42 yards shy of a 1,000-yard rushing season. The Nebraska rushing attack is very good, and currently ranks 22nd in the NCAA. Of course, the Michigan State rushing defense is No. 1 in the country (76.5 ypg allowed) and has consistently shut down the top option in opposing backfields. That needs to keep up this week. Adrian Martinez and Maurice Washington could make an impact in the rushing game as well, but Ozigbo should be the Spartans’ focus.

Michigan State offense vs. Nebraska defense: We can talk about Nebraska’s powerful offense vs. Michigan State’s elite run defense all we want, but I feel like this is the more important matchup to watch because both of these units will need to step up to give their team a chance to win. The Huskers rank 107th in total defense, 90th in rushing defense, 101st in passing defense and 102nd in points allowed. Meanwhile Michigan State ranks 110th in total offense, 67th in passing offense, 116th in rushing offense and 117th in scoring. Something’s got to give here.

JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan Jr. vs. Michigan State secondary: Justin Layne, Josiah Scott and the rest of the MSU secondary is going to have their hands full with these two receivers. Spielman and Morgan have combined for 125 catches, 1,674 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, so expect to hear their names often on Saturday. Spielman ranks second in the Big Ten in receptions and fourth in receiving yards, while Morgan ranks third in receiving yards and sixth in receptions. The MSU pass defense has been improved these past few weeks, and will need to continue to play well there.

Update: Spielman is out with an ankle injury

Game Info

Time: Noon EST
TV Channel: Fox
Location: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska
Weather expectations: Cloudy, 30 degrees, snow flurries possible, high winds upward of 20 MPH blowing north
Line: Michigan State -1.5


A lot of fans seem to be concerned about Nebraska’s high-powered offense because Michigan State’s offense could not possibly match it if the game becomes a shootout, but also seem to forget that the Cornhuskers are highly turnover prone on offense and struggle mightily on defense. I don’t think points are going to be as hard to find for MSU this week, although I wouldn’t expect the Spartans to score upward of 30 given their struggles, either. The thing is, in all likelihood, Michigan State won’t need to keep pace. MSU’s defense is likely going to hold Nebraska under its season average for scoring total, rushing yards, etc., as the unit has done to just about every opponent it has faced this year.

Let’s call it what it is. Nebraska is not a very good football team in 2018. It will be in the future under head coach Scott Frost, but this year was just to lay the foundation and build from the ground up. This is a team that started 0-6, and only one of its three wins this season is against a school that currently has winning record — and that school is Bethune-Cookman, which is an FCS school. Yes, Nebraska gave Ohio State a scare, but eventually unraveled. I think the game will be close because Nebraska always plays Michigan State tough, but I really am not too worried. Would I be shocked if Nebraska won? No, but this is a game Michigan State should win, even on the road in a tough environment, and I think the concerns I’ve been seeing in the comments sections and on social media are a bit overblown.

Who is going to start at quarterback for the Spartans: Brian Lewerke or Rocky Lombardi? That will determine how things flow for the Spartans.

Also, is it just me, or does Scott Frost kind of look like Landry Clarke from the “Friday Night Lights” series?

How do you see this one shaking out in Lincoln?


Which school wins?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Michigan State
    (77 votes)
  • 55%
    (97 votes)
174 votes total Vote Now