Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is cautious with his words

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing – — When Michigan State beat Nebraska for the first time in the series last season, Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini wasn't exactly giving the Spartans credit.

He had just watched his team lose 41-28, but five turnovers played a role as the Cornhuskers were able to effectively move the ball, rushing for more than 180 yards (123 from Ameer Abdullah).

It had the Huskers feeling as if they gave away a victory.

"We've run the football on them for three years," Pelini said. "We beat this football team the past two years.

"They're a quality football team. But we've run the football on them before, and we'll run it on them again."

On Monday, with No. 19 Nebraska preparing to head to East Lansing to face No. 10 Michigan State on Saturday night, Pelini wasn't as willing to make any statements about how last season's matchup played out.

"What happened happened," Pelini said. "You can look at it two ways: you can look at it that we gave it to them, or you can look at it from their standpoint that they took it.

"We need to play better, cleaner, to have a chance to win.

"I don't want to take away and say we should have won the football game, that's sort of a cop-out. They won the football game, we lost, it does not matter how it happened."

There is no doubt, however, Pelini and the Huskers are counting on a bit of atonement this week.

"I feel like we started where we wanted to (last season), but we had too many mistakes and we have to fix those," said quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who had three turnovers against the Spartans. "We are going to a dogfight this week. Michigan State is no fluke team. If we make those mistakes, it may cost us the game."

Nebraska is coming off a couple of impressive victories over Miami and Illinois. In five games — all Nebraska victories — Abdullah has run for more than 200 yards three times.

He opened with 232 yards and a touchdown against Florida Atlantic, 229 yards and two scores against Miami, and 208 yards and three touchdowns last week against Illinois.

Plus, the Cornhuskers lead the series against the Spartans, 7-1.

Still, Pelini isn't putting much stock in those numbers.

"I don't buy into that," Pelini said. "I don't worry about what's happened in the past. It's about what's going to happen Saturday night and how two football teams are gonna play Saturday night.

"There's a lot of tradition here and we try to build on and talk about in our recruiting. You go down the list of great players who have played here and they aren't playing for us Saturday."

What he is putting stock in is the Huskers playing a cleaner game than they did last season.

"At the end of the day we've got to get better," Pelini said. "We've got to get better this week to be able to go on the road and win against a good football team. We need to fix us first. Things that didn't magnify themselves (against Illinois) could magnify themselves (Saturday)."

Nebraska at Michigan State

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: ABC/WJR

Records: No. 19 Nebraska 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten), No. 10 Michigan State 3-1 (0-0)

Line: Michigan State by 7

Series: Nebraska leads 7-1 (Michigan State 41-28, Nov. 16, 2013)

Did you know? Nebraska has not lost to Michigan State in East Lansing.