View from the other side: Michigan State at Nebraska
Michigan State at Nebraska
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
Records: Michigan State 6-4, 4-3 Big Ten; Nebraska 3-7, 2-5
Line: Michigan State by 2 1/2
View from the other side
Chris Basnett covers Nebraska athletics for the Lincoln Journal Star. He breaks down the Cornhuskers for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Nebraska game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.
►Question: Considering how the season started, how impressive is it the Cornhuskers have won three of the last four?
►Basnett: It’s pretty darn impressive, even considering the opponents. The way that team was dominated at Michigan, it looked like they were a long way from beating anyone, much less winning three games and almost getting two more in the weeks since. You don’t have to look far, as in, last season, to see how this team has crumbled in the face of adversity under past coaching staffs. It’s a testament to what Scott Frost and his staff have been able to do with the culture here. If you landed in Lincoln right now and had no idea what the football team’s record was, you’d think they were 9-1 instead of 3-7, just by the way the coaches and players are carrying themselves.
►Question: Is freshman QB Adrian Martinez just scratching the surface of his potential?
►Basnett: I think so, which is crazy to think about considering what he’s done as an 18-year-old freshman. He has that “it” factor, whatever “it” is, that the great ones seem to have. No one is comparing him to Tommie Frazier just yet, but that’s a guy you can build around for the future. You’re also talking about a guy that didn’t play football his senior year of high school because of a shoulder injury, then came into a Power Five program, won the job, and established himself as one of the top freshmen in the Big Ten. He’s a good enough runner to get 15 or so carries a game, he’s completing 67 percent of his passes, and he’ll likely finish in the top five on Nebraska’s single-season list for total yardage in a season. Just an impressive person all the way around.
►Question: MSU has been good against the run all season. Can Nebraska be that team that breaks out on the ground?
►Basnett: I think that’s the matchup to watch. Nebraska has been pretty good on the ground over the last month or so, which has coincided with more success in the win-loss column. The other side of that, of course, is that Michigan State will be the best defense NU has seen since Michigan, when the Huskers could barely get a snap off without a whole bunch of Wolverines getting into the backfield. Senior running back Devine Ozigbo has been a revelation, going from a guy that even the coaches weren’t completely sure could contribute before the season to a big-play threat. I think one thing that leans Nebraska’s way in that matchup is Martinez’s ability to run. The Huskers will use him a lot, whether it’s quarterback power, draws, or in the zone read game, and he’s someone the Spartans will have to account for.
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►Question: Considering MSU’s offensive struggles, can this be a game where the Huskers’ defense takes a big step?
►Basnett: It could be, but Nebraska has really struggled to stop the run against top-tier competition (see Michigan, again, and Ohio State). So much of what the Huskers do revolves around the offense — if Nebraska can get an early lead and make MSU one-dimensional, that certainly helps NU. Another thing to watch is the turnover battle — Nebraska has gotten a lot better at taking the ball away, to the tune of 11 forced turnovers the last three games. This defense knows it will give up some points, but if it’s able to generate a couple of takeaways and force the Spartans to throw more than they want, they can really key in and make some strides.
►Question: MSU hasn’t fared well in Lincoln, with the loss in 2015 still a sore subject. Why is it so hard to play the Huskers at home?
►Basnett: Even when Nebraska has had down years, save for last year, the Huskers have always been tough at home. With this being an 11 a.m. kickoff, and some not-great weather expected, things won’t be as wild as they would be for a night game or even an afternoon kick. But this fan base is passionate, and it’s a passion that has been rekindled with Frost coming home. Fans here are smart — they see the progress the Huskers have made, and they know they play a role in that success on the field. The sellout streak, which is now at 368 games, is a huge deal in a state with no professional sports teams to split allegiances. And with Saturday being the final home game of the season, it should be another rowdy atmosphere.
Players to watch
►Adrian Martinez, QB: The true freshman has been at the forefront of the offense’s surge in recent weeks. He’s averaging 245.8 yards passing and 59.4 yards rushing for a total of 305.2 yards, which ranks second in the Big Ten and 14th in the nation. Martinez has had three games this season with 400 or more total yards, and his 441 yards against Wisconsin set a Nebraska freshman record. Martinez has accounted for four touchdowns twice this season, against Minnesota and Illinois.
►Stanley Morgan Jr., WR: The senior enters this week’s game with 178 career receptions and 2,599 receiving yards, both ranking second in program history and likely will become the career leader by the time the season ends. Morgan had a career-high 10 receptions in the win over Minnesota with 163 yards and two touchdowns. He has also caught a pass in 36 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in Nebraska history.
►JD Spielman, WR: The sophomore had a breakout in 2017, earning Freshman All-American honors after catching 55 passes for 830 yards. He’s picked up where he left off, and leads the Huskers this season in receptions with 66 and touchdown receptions with eight. Spielman has recorded at least three catches in every game this season.
Facts and figures
►Ring it up: Nebraska has scored at least 30 points in each of the last five games, marking the first time the Huskers have topped 30 points in five consecutive games since the first five games of the 2014 season. Michigan State, conversely, is allowing just 19.7 points a game, which ranks tied for 17th in the nation after limiting Ohio State to 26 last week, well off its average of more than 42 points a game.
►Home cooking: In its three Big Ten home games, Nebraska is averaging 615.7 yards a game. The 565 total yards in the season-opener against Colorado was the Huskers’ first 500-yard game since 2016 and they followed that with 500-yard games on the road against Purdue and Wisconsin, the first time Nebraska had 500 yards in back to back games since joining the Big Ten.
►Defensive marks: Three Michigan State defensive players recorded career highs in tackles last week in the game against Ohio State, with senior safety Khari Willis leading the way with 15 stops. Senior linebacker Andrew Dowell recorded 14 tackles while junior defensive end Kenny Willekes had 13 tackles. MSU has allowed only 22 rushes this season of 10 yards or more, second-fewest in the nation.