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Michigan State Spartans vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers Game Preview and Prediction

Connor Cook

Connor Cook

The SEC owns the spotlight in Week 6, but the marquee night matchup on Saturday resides in the Big Ten, as Nebraska travels to Michigan State. Considering how both teams have performed this year, this could be an early preview of the Big Ten Championship and an elimination game for playoff purposes.

Nebraska is off to a solid 5-0 start, scoring at least 40 points in four out of its five games. The Cornhuskers needed a last-minute escape to beat McNeese State, but Bo Pelini’s team defeated Miami by 10 and Illinois by 31 last Saturday.

Michigan State suffered a loss to Oregon in Week 2, but the Spartans have won by at least 38 points in their other three games. Saturday night’s game against Nebraska is the first Big Ten contest of the year for Mark Dantonio’s team.

Nebraska owns a 5-1 series edge over Michigan State, but the Cornhuskers lost last year’s meeting 41-28 in Lincoln. Nebraska won its last trip to East Lansing, a 28-24 matchup in 2012.

Nebraska at Michigan State

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)

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TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -6.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Michigan State’s Run Defense Against Ameer Abdullah

There are few players in the nation performing at a higher level than Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. The senior ranks second nationally by averaging 166.6 yards per game and is tied with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon for the Big Ten lead in rushing scores (eight). Abdullah has three 200-yard games, including 208 in last week’s 45-14 win over Illinois last Saturday. The senior also leads the nation with 29 rushes of 10 yards or more. But will Abdullah have success against Michigan State’s front seven? The Spartans rank second in the Big Ten against the run, limiting opponents to only 80.8 yards per game. Pat Narduzzi’s defense is allowing only 2.9 yards per rush, with Oregon (4.3 ypc) having the most success so far this year. Despite Michigan State’s strength in the trenches, Abdullah has posted back-to-back 100-yard games against the Spartans and averaged over five yards per carry in his two previous meetings. That’s a good sign for Abdullah on Saturday.

2. Michigan State’s Offense

After five games, Nebraska’s defense ranks seventh in the Big Ten in yards per play allowed. The Cornhuskers are giving up just 4.8 yards per play, but this unit allowed 6.7 to Miami and 5.5 to Illinois last week. Is this the week everything falls into place for Nebraska’s defense? Or will Michigan State’s offense score 40 points in a game for the third time this year? The Spartans’ offensive attack is headlined by quarterback Connor Cook (9 TDs, 2 INTs, 69.2%) and running back Jeremy Langford (340 yards). Langford gashed Nebraska for 151 yards (4.7 ypc) last season and appears to be healthy after battling an early-season ankle injury in 2014. If Langford has success on the ground, it will open up the pass for big plays from Cook and receiver Tony Lippett. How will the Cornhuskers defend the Spartans? Will Nebraska load the box to stop Langford? The Cornhuskers need to make Michigan State one-dimensional and put Cook in third-and-long situations. If Nebraska can get the Spartans off sequence, Nebraska’s pass rush (12 sacks) will have opportunities to get to Cook on passing downs.

3. The Turnover Battle

Nebraska lost five turnovers in last year’s meeting. With this season’s matchup in East Lansing, the Cornhuskers have little margin for error and a negative turnover margin would be too much to overcome. Michigan State leads the Big Ten with a +9 turnover margin and has forced 12 turnovers through four games. Nebraska is just +1 through five games and lost two turnovers in each of the last two contests. So far, quarterback Tommy Armstrong has limited his mistakes (just three interceptions on 115 attempts) for the Cornhuskers. Armstrong only completed 9 of 21 throws in last year’s matchup, and his development – and ability to limit his mistakes in the passing game – are critical for Nebraska’s hopes of winning. If the Spartans dominate the turnover department and finish with a +2 or +3 margin, Nebraska will have a hard time going into East Lansing and earning the victory.

Final Analysis

Turnovers and the play of quarterback Tommy Armstrong are critical for Nebraska’s upset hopes. For Michigan State, it has to find a way to stop running back Ameer Abdullah. Had the Cornhuskers not recorded a negative turnover margin (-5) last year, the outcome would have been much closer (41-28). While Armstrong is better equipped to handle the challenge of playing the Spartans’ defense, and Abdullah is playing at a high level, this is a tough task for Nebraska to win in East Lansing against a top-10 team. Michigan State’s balance on offense, along with its stout defensive line, will be just enough for the Spartans to pull out the victory.

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Prediction: Michigan State 30, Nebraska 20