Michigan State returns home to East Lansing from south Florida with a perfect 3-0 record, and a little bit of swagger to go with it. This week brings Nebraska to the banks of the (possibly overflowing) Red Cedar for the first home Big Ten conference game of the year for the Spartans, and second Big Ten tilt of the season overall. The Cornhuskers have had an up-and-down start to their year, but remain a thorn in the side of the Spartans since joining the Big Ten. Let’s take a look at the Huskers.
School: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Conference: Big Ten (West Division)
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Head Coach: Scott Frost (fourth season, 14-22)
Mascot: Herbie Husker and Lil’ Red
All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 9-2 (won last two meetings)
Nebraska’s season started with a road loss in conference play to Illinois before the Cornhuskers came home and took care of Fordham (FCS) and Buffalo. The Huskers then went back on the road and fell to Oklahoma in a pretty hard-fought game. So it is tough to really get a hold on how good Nebraska might actually be. But that 9-2 record against MSU, including the last two, should be plenty of motivation for the Spartans.
The Huskers come in middle of the road on offense at 69th nationally, averaging 29.5 points per game. However, that total is inflated largely on account of the 52 points Nebraska scored against the FCS opponent. In the three games against FBS opponents, the Huskers are averaging just 22 points per game.
On the ground Nebraska ranks 32nd in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 201 yards per game. Nebraska is just 61st in yards per carry at 4.39 yards per rush, but the Cornhuskers are tied for fifth in the nation with 11 rushing touchdowns. Although, they have played one more game than most other teams.
One number that does stand out is the rushes per game, where the Huskers have the 13th highest average at almost 46 rushing attempts per game.
Through the air, Nebraska is averaging 280.3 passing yards per game, which is 34th in the country. This is largely due to averaging 10.5 yards per attempt, the seventh-best total in the nation. These numbers are not inflated by the Fordham game, as the Huskers averaged 14.8 and 11.6 yards per pass, respectively, in their last two games, as well as a mark of 10.1 against Fordham.
On defense the Huskers rank 26th in scoring defense, allowing 15.8 points per game. They held Fordham and Buffalo to a combined 10 points, and allowed 30 points and 23 points to Illinois and Oklahoma, respectively.
The rushing defense ranks No. 81 nationally, allowing 156.25 yards per game. That ranking slides down to No, 94 overall in yards per attempt, allowing 4.34 yards per rush.
It’s been tough going through the air against Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers are 44th in the country at 190 passing yards allowed per game allowed. The yards per attempt number is even better, where Nebraska allows just 5.7 yards per pass, good for 23rd nationally. The Huskers have allowed four passing touchdowns, but also have four interceptions.
Turnovers have been an issue through four games, with the Huskers having given away five turnovers, with four of those being lost fumbles. They have forced five turnovers of their own, though, so the margin remains even.
Players to Watch
Quarterback Adrian Martinez is still around and at the helm of the Nebraska offense. Now in his fourth season, he is off to a hot start, throwing for 1017 yards already and completing 65.7 percent of his passes. He has five touchdowns against one interception. He is also the team’s leading rusher with 290 yards on 51 carries (5.69 yards per rush) and four rushing touchdowns. Bottom line, you have to find a way to contain the big plays from Martinez —both on the ground and through the air.
A trio of other running backs have gotten twenty-plus carries so far. Sophomore Markese Stepp has 128 yards on 30 carries with a score. Freshman Gabe Ervin Jr. has 124 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns. And freshman Rahmir Johnson has 81 yards on 24 rushes to go along with three catches for 48 yards.
The top receiving threat is senior Samori Toure — a transfer from Montana, where he was a first-team All-American in the FCS. Toure is averaging over 20 yards per catch with Nebraska. He leads the team with 16 catches for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
The next leading receiver is junior tight end Austin Allen, who has 13 catches for 135 yards. Junior Omar Manning has 132 yards and a touchdown on just seven catches.
On defense, linebacker Pheldarius Payne leads the team with two sacks, while fellow linebacker Garrett Nelson leads the team with five tackles for loss.
Senior linebacker JoJo Domann has been racking up stats all over the field. He is third on the team with 23 tackles, second in tackles for loss with three, and has an interception.
Senior safety Deontai Williams has two interceptions and is fourth on the team with 23 tackles.
The placekicker is senior Connor Culp, who has really struggled so far. Culp has made just three of his eight field goal attempts after going 13-for-15 last year. Culp has also missed three extra points.
So that is a little about Nebraska, who really is tough to read. The early season performance at Illinois was really poor, but last week at Oklahoma was a better team. Which one will show up in East Lansing on Saturday is anyone’s guess, but the Spartans need to be ready for a fight.