Thursday, February 29, 2024

Preview: MSU looks to keep the momentum going against Nebraska

September 25, 2021
	<p>Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell makes a pass around a Nebraska defender Nov. 3, 2012, at Spartan stadium. The final score was 28-24 with the Cornhuskers coming out on top. Katie Stiefel/ State News</p>

Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell makes a pass around a Nebraska defender Nov. 3, 2012, at Spartan stadium. The final score was 28-24 with the Cornhuskers coming out on top. Katie Stiefel/ State News

Photo by Katie Stiefel | The State News

Michigan State will look to continue its improbable undefeated start this weekend when Nebraska travels to East Lansing to take on the Spartans. This will be Michigan State’s home opener in the Big Ten and its first home game against a Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, opponent this season.

MSU is coming off a convincing win against Miami last weekend that catapulted the team into the national rankings and showed MSU might be a real contender in the Big Ten East that Ohio State has dominated in recent years.

The early-season success has resulted from Michigan State’s now-explosive offense averaging 39.3 points per game through three games in Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker’s second year in charge. The level of competency MSU has shown on offense so far has been absent from MSU’s program since it went to the College Football Playoff in 2015 with the best offense in school history.

Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III is leading the nation in rushing yards, missed tackles generated and rushing yards after contact, according to Walker has been the backbone of the prolific offense so far, as a possible Heisman candidate through three weeks. His backfield partner, quarterback Payton Thorne, has looked great after winning the starting job and has yet to turn the ball over this season. 

On the other side of the ball, there has not been as much dominance from the Michigan State defense, but the unit has still been good. They have allowed 52 total points through three games and have allowed the opposing offense to move the ball in each game but have stayed strong and kept points off the board, for the most part. The defense is led by its run defense and a strong defensive line, which held Miami to 52 rushing yards.

The Spartans' only glaring weakness through three convincing wins has been the secondary, which has shown to be prone to lapses on deep balls and prefers to play soft coverage, which leads to easy completions underneath, like against Miami. This has not been a major problem but could become one as Michigan State plays better competition, and better quarterbacks, in the Big Ten.

The Opponent

That tougher quarterback might come in the game on Saturday when Nebraska rolls into Spartan Stadium. Junior Adrian Martinez is under center for the Cornhuskers and is one of the better signal-callers in the Big Ten. Despite the disappointing 2-2 start for Nebraska, the team has looked feisty, especially in the one-score loss to fourth-ranked Oklahoma last Saturday.

Outside of Martinez, the level of talent within Nebraska's offense is not the best. They have only broken the 30 point threshold in one of four games so far against Fordham in the FCS. Martinez’s counting numbers have been good, totaling 1,000 passing yards and 290 rushing yards. The skill positions and offensive line have struggled around him, though, accounting for the Cornhuskers’ struggles.

On defense, Nebraska has been solid but not perfect this season. The highlight so far has been holding Oklahoma’s offense and Heisman hopeful Spencer Rattler to 23 points, its lowest point total since 2016. They were competitive on the line of scrimmage against a good Oklahoma offensive line and could disrupt Michigan State’s high octane rushing attack led by Walker. 

The Cornhusker defense is hot and could be the reason this game remains close, despite the struggles of its offense. This could be an ugly, low-scoring game in the woodshed if the defensive lines dominate as they have this season for both squads. 

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