Michigan State vs. Nebraska: Wounded team poses threat

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down Saturday's Michigan State-Nebraska game at Tom Osborne Field at Memorial Stadium (7 p.m., ESPN / WJR 760).

Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp leads team in receptions (49), receiving yards (658) and TDs (five).

Cornhuskers to watch

Tommy Armstrong Jr., QB: The third-year starter missed last week’s game at Purdue with a turf toe injury after starting 22 straight. He’s been effective, throwing for 2,052 yards and 16 TDs while running for 257 yards and four TD. Armstrong, however, has seven INTs. His 3,400 total yards is third in Nebraska history. Even with the toe issue, Armstrong will pressure the Spartans defense.

Jordan Westerkamp, WR: The junior leads the Cornhuskers in receptions (49), receiving yards (658) and TDs (five). Last season against Michigan State, Westerkamp had nine catches for 158 yards. He’s fifth in the Big Ten in average receptions (5.4) and sixth in yards (73.1). He is fifth on Nebraska’s career receiving yardage list with 1,688, and his 49 catches this season are the 10th-best in a season for the Cornhuskers.

Detroit News predictions: Michigan State vs. Nebraska

Maliek Collins, DT: The junior has been a force since conference began, and had a career-high nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in a loss to Illinois. Collins also tied a career-high with three tackles for loss and had one pass breakup against the Illini. He has 26 tackles, including five tackles for loss. Last season against the Spartans, Collins had three tackles and a half-sack.


Fair play: After Michigan State held on for a 27-22 victory at home last season, many of the Nebraska players were upset with the Michigan State defense, saying players were clapping to confuse the snap count. It was something players were still talking about before this season began.

Winning ways: Before Michigan State’s victory at Nebraska in 2013, the Spartans had never beaten the Cornhuskers. But they’ve won two straight, and getting back on the winning side will be important for the Cornhuskers, if not to end their skid against the Spartans, but to keep them alive for a possible bowl.

Play the game: Most of the Michigan State players and coaches said they paid little attention to the first set of College Football Playoff rankings, but the reality is getting to that point means winning each week, and overlooking Nebraska would be a mistake.

First-year blues: The pressure is mounting on first-year Nebraska coach Mike Riley, who is 3-6 (1-4 Big Ten) and has the Cornhuskers on the verge of missing a bowl for the first time since 2007. Riley received a vote of confidence from AD Shawn Eichorst, but he’s not on solid ground, either.

Best effort: It’s hard to gauge an opponent when things aren’t going well, but Michigan State understands the position Nebraska is in and expects nothing less than an outstanding effort.

Facts and figures

*Michigan State’s winning streak keeps growing, sitting at 12. It’s the longest streak for Michigan State since 1955-56, and is tied for the third-longest in program history. The Spartans won 15 straight from 1912-14 and a school-record 28 straight from 1950-53.

*The Spartans are in the midst of a 12-game road conference winning streak, compiling a 19-3 record in those games since 2010. It’s the longest such streak in Michigan State history and the second-longest active streak in the Big Ten, trailing the 14 straight won by Ohio State.

*Michigan State is 8-0 for the sixth time in school history and the first time since 2010. The Spartans also matched the 8-0 start in 1951, 1952, 1965 and 1966. A victory would give Michigan State its first 9-0 start since 1966.

*QB Connor Cook is three TDs from passing Kirk Cousins (66) for the most in Michigan State history. Cook also has thrown for more than 300 yards in three consecutive games and is one shy of matching Jeff Smoker for most in school history (10 career games).

*Nebraska has won four of its last five against ranked teams at Memorial Stadium. It is 2-1 against ranked Big Ten teams at home since 2011, one victory coming No. 9 against Michigan State in 2011.