Welcome back to The Woodshed, Michigan State fans.
BEFORE GOING ANY FURTHER: STRIPE. THE STADIUM.
All right, now onto the preview.
3 THINGS WE WANT TO SEE
Michigan State’s front six going berserk on defense
Yeah, DUH — of course we always want MSU’s front to do incredible things. But here’s why this is at the top of the list for a would-be Spartan victory...
Look at Nebraska and spot the holes. Now I’m not saying Nebraska is Alabama, but they’re an all-around solid team DESPITE what we all saw in Week Zero when the Cornhuskers laid a dud against Illinois.
The Cornhuskers’ running backs are fine. Their quarterback is solid. Their receiver corps is more than solid. Their defense as a whole has been beyond solid since the Illinois game. However, that offensive line is where the biggest hole in that team is.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez has been sacked 11 times in four games this year, getting sacked five times each in games against Illinois and Oklahoma. The Huskers started last game with two false start penalties on the opening drive. The run game is smack dab in the middle of average as they pound the rock at 4.0 yards per carry (good for 66th in the nation).
They’re a young unit — they have no seniors along the offensive line and use four juniors, one sophomore and five freshmen in the team’s 10-man rotation. If MSU’s defensive front plays the way they have been...HOO BOY, this could be where the game is won.
Keep on bending, not breaking in coverage
Last week’s game plan was enough to keep Miami’s passing game at bay, even if it did mean Charleston Rambo racking up a trillion yards and two touchdowns. In Michigan State’s cover three defense, the Spartans give cushion (sometimes too much, but I digress) on the sidelines but keep everything in front of them.
That will be crucial with Nebraska’s stud receivers in Samori Toure and Omar Manning coming in. Toure — a transfer who lit it up at Montana for 1,495 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019 — ranks third in the Big Ten in yards per catch with 20.8. Right behind him in fourth place is Manning, who comes in at a 18.9 yards per reception clip.
MSU’s key on pass defense has been limiting the big plays, and Toure and Manning are more than capable of executing them. So bend but don’t break, BABY!
Spartan Stadium rocking
The Huskers got their first taste of a road atmosphere last weekend in Norman, Oklahoma, but a rocking Spartan Stadium could even amplify that intimidation factor even more.
Nebraska comes into Saturday’s game as the third-best Big Ten team at converting on third downs, doing so at a 50 percent clip. The Cornhuskers’ offensive line, like mentioned earlier, is very young and was prone to false starts last week. Their kicker might be working on a few things (more on that later) that a fierce crowd may not help with.
Essentially — and I know this is cliche — MSU’s crowd can be a great 12th man on Saturday. Let’s rattle some cages within the striped Spartan Stadium.
2 KEY STATS
That’s the amount of combined interceptions thrown between Michigan State’s Payton Thorne and Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez. Simply put, who will blink first and make the first (or fewest) mistakes on Saturday?
We all know Thorne’s deal — he’s been mostly a game manager (THAT’S A COMPLIMENT) with a few big playmaker moments sprinkled in. He’s smart and responsible with the ball.
Martinez has been the same by all accounts, being better at taking sacks instead of just chucking it up to no one when pressure attacks him. His lone interception is excused, too, as it came on a fourth-and-17 at the 24-yard-line with pressure chasing him, throwing a desperation pass because he had to.
So this will be a battle of cerebral quarterback play, no doubt.
That has been Nebraska kicker Connor Culp’s stat line here to start the season. That’s right — three made field goals on eight attempts after four games. And, yes, this is the reigning Big Ten Kicker of the Year we are talking about.
If this game is close, this will obviously become a wildly important aspect of the game. It’s clear that Culp has a case of the yips, and we’re just hoping playing in front of 75,000 rowdy MSU fans doesn’t cure that in the slightest.
Last week did start on the right foot for him (pun intended, as always) as he banged home a 51-yarder. However, he went on to miss a 50-yarder and a 35-yarder to round out the game.
Like I said earlier — this is the reigning Big Ten Kicker of the Year. There’s talent in that leg. We just hope he takes a little longer to find it again.
1 BEST BET
MSU -5, o/u 52
All right, FINALLY on the board after a rough start. Michigan State-Miami went under despite the Spartan offense’s best effort, so we are 1-2 on the year.
I think MSU wins this game, but I think it’s close. And I can also see an avenue where Nebraska wins, so I’m just going to go ahead and not even touch that spread.
I will, however, gladly take the under this game. MSU’s bend-don’t-break defense has been solid. Nebraska’s secondary is pretty damn good and that defense as a whole just held the Oklahoma juggernaut to under 25 points. I’m feeling a defensive game here, so give me the under.
Pick: Under 52