Five Questions: Michigan State

Big Red Report talks with publisher Mike Wilson about the Huskers Saturday night contest with Michigan State.

1.) Has the Michigan State defense been able to put a finger on what makes Nebraska so effective when it comes to running on them when so many other teams struggle with it?
"It is an interesting matchup in how Michigan State’s defense is tested and I’m not sure there is an answer for it. The way Michigan State’s scheme is built is to understand you stop almost all plays, while knowing there will be some big plays possible, but you limit those. Nebraska has done a better job than anyone over the past couple years of breaking out big plays on the Spartans. I don’t expect Michigan State to change anything schematically, just like I don’t expect Nebraska to change much. Both teams have a system, they do it well and they stick with it. If you’re Michigan State, you just hope to keep Ameer Abdullah to short gains much of the time and as few big plays as possible – obviously, far easier said than done, especially with the fact Tommy Armstrong is improved as a passer."

2.) Quarterback Connor Cook played so well late in the season last year, how has he been able to take that confidence into this season?
"Cook continually grew last season from the time he fully took the reins as the starter against Iowa and never looked back. His confidence grew each week on and on, capping off the season with MVPs of both the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl. What has been so key for not only Cook, but the entire offense is the core returned and has been playing together for so long now. Cook has built a rapport with wide receiver Tony Lippett that has been crazy to watch early and they already have connected for six touchdowns this year. Cook, at this point, just has a mastery of what Michigan State does offensively and it has allowed them to expand more and add tweaks and nuances. He has improved his footwork and his pocket presence, which has helped take his game to the next level and he has become a far better quarterback than it seemed he could be early in his career. He is a confident passer, who is the next guy in line of the “Game Manager Quarterback University” products – as some in NFL circles have coined Michigan State these days."

3.) Give us a dark-horse difference maker on offense and defense this week for Michigan State.
"One of the most underrated players for Michigan State the past four years has been Marcus Rush. The senior defensive end is starting for the fourth year and really he has been a model of consistency, but has taken his game up a notch this season. He is not the biggest, but he plays the role Michigan State wants him to fill very well. He was the best defensive player at Oregon. He has 17 tackles this year after having just 30 last season. On the offensive side, the guys that come to mind are wide receiver Aaron Burbridge and tight ends Jamal Lyles and Josiah Price. I put Lyles on my five key players for Michigan State this week, so I will go with him. Michigan State’s offense has shown early this year it will use any of its weapons at any time and Lyles has been underutilized so far. His time figures to be coming and this week is as good a time as any."

4.) From a national perspective, this is a huge game in the Big Ten this week. Did MSU media and fans have this one circled coming into the season or was it somebody else on the schedule?
"I think it was a focus to an extent because it is the first game of the Big Ten season and it is a very tough team to open against. It also is one of the toughest games on the conference slate, maybe the toughest at this point given Ohio State losing Braxton Miller. Michigan being the main rival certainly was circled, as was Ohio State for the fact it is an East Division matchup and a rematch of last season’s Big Ten title game. Obviously, Oregon was the nonconference matchup that was the focus for not only Michigan State, but also basically the entire nation. Nebraska definitely was one of the games on the schedule that stands out though."

5.) Your prediction and why for this weekend?
"I think Michigan State wins in a one-score game with both teams in the 30s, which I predicted at 37-31. I think Nebraska is going to have success running the ball and will get its yards, but this Michigan State teams is much different than last year it seems. It is a team that doesn’t need to play in a slugfest to win, but is more capable of playing in a shootout and coming out on top. Connor Cook should be the difference as he has taken his game to a new level, but the Spartans will look to run the ball with Jeremy Langford, who finally is healthy this year and had his first 100-yard game last year. Throw in home field and I like Michigan State to win this one, in what probably winds up being the most challenging game of the Big Ten season for both teams."

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