No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State
Saturday, 7 p.m. CT on ABC
Last time these two met: Nebraska lost to Michigan State at home 41-28, committing five turnovers last November.
* The winner will solidify themselves as the national favorite to possibly represent the Big Ten in the four-team college football playoff.
* It’s the first time two ranked Big Ten teams have squared off against each other this season.
* Saturday’s forecast is calling for temps in the mid-40s with rain.
* Can Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah rush for over a 100 yards for the third time in his career against Michigan State?
|Matchup Preview | October 4, 2014|
|#19 Nebraska Cornhuskers|
(5-0, 1-0 Away)
|#10 Michigan State Spartans|
(3-1, 3-0 Home)
LINCOLN, Neb. - When Bo Pelini’s team visits East Lansing on Saturday; it won’t be the biggest game during his tenure as head coach of the University of Nebraska. Pelini has guided his squad to three conference title games in six seasons. A win on the other hand, that’s a different story.
A Bo Pelini squad has never beat a top ten team on the road. The Huskers are actually just 2-8 under Pelini against AP ranked top ten squads – their last win coming against Michigan State in 2011.
Ultimately Nebraska could afford a loss on Saturday. With games against Wisconsin and Iowa, a west division title is not out of the question if the Huskers were to fall in East Lansing. But, when it comes to national perception and relevance, a win is crucial for a program that hasn’t finished the season in the AP top 10 since 2001.
A win would not only likely catapult Nebraska in the rankings, but at 6-0 with their toughest regular season game behind them, they could legitimately be called a playoff contender.
Harvey’s keys to a Nebraska victory:
* Nebraska’s defense has to settle in quick: The Blackshirts have somewhat struggled in the first quarter of games this season and as defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, the Huskers can’t spot the Spartans seven early points. The group has been solid this year, but can’t put their offense in an early hole.
* Protect Tommy Armstrong from trying to do too much: Last season as a redshirt freshman, Armstrong had three turnovers against Michigan State. He’s a different player this season, but this is the sophomore’s biggest test to date. Nebraska has to lean on senior running back Ameer Abdullah, who’s been quite effective against the Spartans the last two years.
* Nebraska needs great safety play: Spartan quarterback Connor Cook isn’t afraid to go downfield and Michigan State features some bigger receivers. The Husker safeties will have to do a good job of helping the corners from getting beat on jump balls downfield. In addition, they will need to be aware of receivers breaking off routes when the pocket breaks down – it’s an area where Michigan State is quite effective.
* Play loose: After five turnovers last season against MSU, this might be Nebraska’s biggest need. There is no denying this is an incredibly big game for both squads, but the Huskers most avoid getting too amped early.
Bo Pelini’s late week preview:
Connor Cook is Nebraska’s biggest threat
By Matt Svoboda – Big Red Report contributor
In a mere 12 months, Michigan State junior quarterback Connor Cook has gone from being in a quarterback battle to being a Big Ten champion, Rose Bowl winner, and very appealing to NFL scouts. There might not be a player in all of college football that has grown and developed more in the last year than Cook, who’s had a remarkable transformation. In some circles, Cook is considered a potential top ten NFL draft pick down the road.
To give a more full picture of Cook’s development, he threw for 135 yards in the Spartans big non-conference game last year against Notre Dame. This season, he went on the road and threw for 343 yards against Oregon, at top five team. The game against the Ducks was also Cook’s only loss since they faced the Irish in 2013.
Nebraska will have their hands full trying to game plan for Michigan State’s offense. Cook is the most talented quarterback the Huskers will face all season. He leads the Big Ten in QB rating and utilizes his weapons very well.
Spartan receiver Tony Lippett is Cook’s favorite target and he is in line for a huge season. The senior has 22 catches for 421 yards and six touchdowns through just four games. Cook has a strong arm and he looks downfield on a consistent basis for Lippett. If the Huskers get caught sneaking up to stop running back Jeremy Langford and the running game, expect Cook to throw it deep more than once.
Nebraska has already given up a few big pass plays this season and will have to be better in that category on Saturday against their biggest downfield team to date. Husker fans were devastated last season as Cook managed to consistently make great passes on third and long plays. It kept the Michigan State offense on the field and limited Nebraska’s chance at a comeback. The Spartans converted more than half of their third downs and dominated time of position by more than 17 minutes.
If the Huskers want to win on Saturday they cannot allow Cook to bail the offense out of bad situations time-and-time again. As they saw last season, it is easier said than done.
Nebraska safety Corey Cooper talks about playing MSU:
Big Red Report score predictions:
Josh Harvey, Scout.com: Michigan State: 38, Nebraska: 34
Bryan Munson, BRR staff: Nebraska: 35, Michigan State: 31
Matt Svoboda, BRR contributor: Michigan State: 31, Nebraska: 27
Mike Wilson, Scout.com: Michigan State: 38, Nebraska: 31
Brandon Huffman, Scout.com: Michigan State: 20, Nebraska: 17
Beth Long, Scout.com: Michigan State: 30, Nebraska: 28
Shane Gilster, BRR magazine: Nebraska: 31, Michigan State: 21
Big Red Report will host our weekly game-chat starting at 6:45 p.m. CT on Saturday. The chat features commentary from staff members Bryan Munson and Josh Harvey, a scoreboard featuring live stats, and tweets/photos from reports embedded at the game.
To get the chat, you can click here: http://nebraska.scout.com/3/Chat.html
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