MSU matches wits with another 'explosive' offense in Nebraska

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Devine Ozigbo

Another week, another explosive offense.

That’s been the pattern much of the season for Michigan State and it continues this week as the Spartans travel to Lincoln to take on Nebraska for a noon kickoff on Saturday.

The Cornhuskers haven’t piled up the wins in coach Scott Frost’s first season at the helm, however, they have put up plenty of points and amassed a sizable chunk of yards. Twice in the last four games, Nebraska has gained more than 600 total yards while eclipsing the 500-yard mark five times. Only twice in 10 games have the Huskers not gained at least 400 yards.

“They’re explosive,” Michigan State defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “They have multiple tailbacks, multiple receivers, obviously a quarterback that are all big-play capable. I think it’s the leading receiving tandem in the Big Ten. Basically a 1,000-yard rusher and another guy who can break the game at any point. A quarterback that keeps the plays alive and is a threat with his feet as well as a strong arm.

“I think they’re top 15 for sure in the nation in total offense. Their offense is rolling right now.”

More: View from the other side: Michigan State at Nebraska

Tressel is right about the ranking as Nebraska ranks 13th in the country, averaging 482.6 yards a game. And about all those players he mentioned? He was right on those, too.

Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez has been the catalyst, accounting for 300 or more yards six times this season, including three games where he surpassed 400 yards. He’s aided by receivers Stanley Morgan Jr. (59 catches, 856 yards, 7 touchdowns) and JD Spielman (66-818-8) while running back Devine Ozigbo has carried the ball 127 times for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In other words, the Huskers are hardly lacking offensive weapons.

“They’re a balanced offense,” Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie said. “They can run the ball, they can pass the ball. Their quarterback, he can run it, he can pass it. Their running back is a big, physical back, 230 (pounds). They have another speed guy. It’s gonna be a tough matchup and we’ve got to be ready for it. We did some extra tackling (in practice) because they can make you miss in space.

“Coach Frost is doing a great job there. He’s turning it around. Their offense is playing good right now, so this isn’t a game we can let off the gas at all. We’ve got to be ready to go for 60 minutes.”

Adrian Martinez

While the offense has had all sorts of problems this season for Michigan State (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten), the defense has consistently been among the best in the nation. More importantly, it has been at its best against some of the top offenses in the Big Ten.

Even in losses, the defense has stood out, as it did last week against Ohio State and earlier in the season against Michigan. The Spartans’ defense allowed only 17 points and 347 total yards to the Buckeyes, who entered the game averaging 42.2 points and 547.2 yards a game. Against the Wolverines, Michigan State’s defense kept the Spartans in the game before finally faltering after more than 41 minutes on the field.

Michigan State did the same in the win over Penn State, allowing 17 points and 392 yards to a Nittany Lions team that entered the game scoring 49.5 points and gaining 510 yards a game. The Spartans also stymied Purdue and kept a Maryland running game that was gaining more than 246 yards a game to just 26.

More: Injuries take toll on Michigan State's fleet of wide receivers

“This is close to or as good as the best defenses we’ve faced all year,” Frost said. “I’ve got a ton of respect for what they do. … they get 11 guys playing hard and sprinting to the football, they don’t give up big plays, we have to be on our game to create them and have to be ready to sustain some drives if we need to.”

Michigan State enters the game as the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation and is charged with slowing a group that gained 316 rushing yards last week against Illinois, the third time this season the Huskers (3-7, 2-5) have run for more than 300 in a game. Ozigbo was also named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after running for 162 yards and three touchdowns.

“It’s just a solid Big Ten defense right there that we’re going to play against,” Ozigbo said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge because it’s definitely a defense you’ve got to respect.”

Added senior left guard Jerald Foster, “We have heard this is the best run-stop defense in the nation, so that is fun. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun to be able to play against a stout group like that.”

Michigan State has had its share of fun, as well, and is ready to see if it can knock down another high-flying offense.

“Our guys feel good right now,” Tressel said. “They’re excited about the challenge. They’re not gun-shy, they’re not lacking confidence. I think they’re playing hard. I think that they know it’s a different challenge, and they’re excited about it. But I think our defense feels good about where it’s at.”

Twitter @mattcharboneau

Michigan State at Nebraska

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.

TV/radio: Fox/760

Records: Michigan State 6-4, 4-3 Big Ten; Nebraska 3-7, 2-5

Line: Michigan State by 2.5