Scoring points and piling up yards hasn’t been a problem this season for Nebraska.
Stuffing offenses and keeping them out of the end zone hasn’t been a problem, either, for Michigan State.
Headed into the final two weeks of the regular season, both the Spartans and Cornhuskers are feeling good about how they’re playing on one side of the ball, though neither team is in the position, overall, it expected it would be.
For Michigan State, the plan was to push for the Big Ten East title and a spot in the conference championship game. Instead, a lackluster offense created, in some part, by a rash of injuries has helped knocked the Spartans out of the title hunt. At Nebraska, the optimism that came with first-year coach Scott Frost evaporated quickly as the Huskers lost the first six games of the season. However, things have started to turn as Nebraska has won three of its last four thanks to an offense that is hitting its stride.
Frost understands, though, what the Huskers are up against when the teams square off at noon Saturday from Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
“We’ve been pretty balanced on offense,” Frost said Monday. “Obviously, that’s gonna be a challenge this week because were playing the No. 1 rushing defense in the country.”
Michigan State (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) is allowing just 76.5 yards a game on the ground while it’s tied for 17th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 19.7 points a game.
The Spartans have been at their best against the best. When they faced Penn State early in the season, the Nittany Lions were the top scoring offense in the Big Ten and Michigan State limited them to just 17 points. Last week, in the loss to Ohio State, the Buckeyes scored only 17 points on offense after entering the game averaging more than 42 a game and they gained 347 total yards, 200 yards off their season average.
“This is close to or as good a defense as we’ve faced all year and I’ve only watched them for one day,” Frost said. “But I’ve got a ton of respect for what they do. They know their schemes and know the issues where people have tried to hit them and they have answers for that.
“The best thing about them is they get 11 guys playing hard and sprinting to the football. They don’t give up big plays.
"We’ve got to be ready to sustain some drives if we need to.”
The Cornhuskers (3-7, 2-5) have had difficulty slowing teams down, but behind freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez, the offense has been rolling.
Nebraska has gained more than 600 yards in a game twice this season and has been held to less than 400 total yards just twice this season. The Huskers are fourth in the conference in scoring (32.3 points a game) and second in total offense (482.6 yards).
Martinez has gained more than 300 total yards five times this season, including the win over Minnesota when he threw for 276 yards and ran for 125. In the loss to Ohio State, Martinez threw for 266 yards while running for 72.
Martinez just started to watch film on Michigan State Monday but was impressed.
“They’re a solid group,” Martinez said. “Obviously they have a really good defense there and they have some tough dudes. It will be a really good matchup for our offense. We have weapons on offense that can counter anything they want to bring at us. I feel confident in our scheme.”