(21) Nebraska (6-2) at Michigan State (5-4)|
Saturday, Nov. 3, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 21st-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers are in for a very difficult
Big Ten Conference clash as they pay a visit to the Michigan State Spartans.
Since dropping a 63-38 decision to Ohio State on Oct. 6, Nebraska has managed
to work its way back into the Top-25 by pulling off a pair of impressive wins
on the road at Northwestern (29-28) and at home against Michigan (23-9). The
Cornhuskers are now 3-1 in Big Ten play, tied atop the Legends Division, and
head coach Bo Pelini knows that his team has their work cut out for them over
the last four games of the regular season.
"My message to the team is you get what you earn in this world," Pelini said.
"They are not going to give you anything. You have to earn it and you have to
be ready to take it. It's as simple as that. It's not going to just happen by
mistake. All we can control is how we prepare for (Saturday's game)."
Michigan State came into the season with high expectations, and it even rose
all the way to No. 10 in the polls following and 2-0 start, but since then
things have been rocky to say the least. The Spartans are all but eliminated
from the Big Ten race after suffering losses to Ohio State (17-16), Iowa
(19-16 in double OT), and Michigan (12-10), although they are coming off an
impressive 16-13 overtime against Wisconsin in Madison last week.
"Every football team every season has defining moments, one way or the other,
and I think (the win over Wisconsin) defined us a little bit," head coach Mark
Dantonio said, whose team's three conference losses came by a combined six
points. "We've been close ... and what I'd like to say I guess is basically,
'hey, we're not going to quit.' We won't quit on people. We've always hung in
there and that's a tribute to our team leadership on our football team and our
chemistry as a group of people and individuals."
The Cornhuskers have won all six previous meetings against the Spartans,
including last season's inaugural matchup as Big Ten rivals, 24-3 in Lincoln.
Nebraska features the Big Ten's best offense both in terms of scoring (39.3
ppg) and yardage (489.1 ypg) thanks in large part to the seventh-ranked
rushing attack in the nation (264.1 ypg).
Ameer Abdullah garners most of the work out of the backfield and ranks fourth
among conference running backs with 716 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Rex Burkhead has been explosive as well with 405 yards and three scores on 47
carries (8.6 ypc), although he's missed three games due to injury.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez also gets in the mix rushing the ball with 461
yards and six touchdowns, but he's far more than just a scrambler, completing
66 percent of his passes for 222.6 passing ypg with 16 touchdowns to just five
With 28 catches for 591 yards and six touchdowns, Kenny Bell has been an
outstanding big-play receiver for Martinez. His 21.1 yards per catch is
second-highest in the conference among players with at least 20 receptions.
The defense (25.4 ppg, 336.4 ypg) has really hunkered since allowing 63 points
to Ohio State a few weeks back, surrendering just 18.5 ppg in its last two
Eric Martin has been active behind the line of scrimmage with 10 tackles for
loss and 6.5 sacks. The team has just six interceptions on the season, but
three came last week against Michigan.
The Michigan State offense has not been very explosive, scoring less than 20
ppg, but it has one of the nation's most dependable running backs in Le'Veon
Bell is the definition of a workhorse back as he has earned 247 of the team's
324 carries. Although his yards per carry has not been outstanding (4.3), the
production is unquestioned with 1,061 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He's
also more than capable as a receiver out of the backfield with 29 receptions.
Even with a top-notch running back to help take the pressure off him, Andrew
Maxwell has not had a very strong season. He's completed less than 56 percent
of his passes for 2,015 yards with nine touchdowns to five interceptions. His
113.4 efficiency rating ranks only above Iowa's James Vanderberg among
starting Big Ten quarterbacks.
Maxwell likes to spread the wealth in the passing game. The Spartans have six
players with at least 20 receptions, led by Keith Mumphrey (32 receptions, 412
While the offense has been mediocre at best, the defense has shined, ranking
first in the conference in both points allowed (15.0 ppg) and yards allowed
(269.1) per game.
Max Bullough (77 tackles, nine TFL, two sacks, INT) and Denicos Allen (61
tackles, eight TFL, sack, INT) headline perhaps the best linebacking corps in
the league. As strong as the unit has been, it struggles getting after the
quarterback with just 11 sacks.
This is a crucial game for Nebraska as it can take a strangle-hold on the
Legends Division with a win. Michigan State has played nothing but close games
this season thanks to its outstanding defense, but without strong play from
the quarterback position, it has difficulty putting games away. Figure this
one to go down to the wire with Martinez outplaying Maxwell in the fourth
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Nebraska 21, Michigan State 20
10/31 10:42:35 ET