Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#399 Nebraska vs.
#400 Michigan State
Saturday, September 25, 2021 at 7:00pm EDT
Written by Eric P.

The Michigan State Spartans play host to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a crucial Big Ten game on Saturday night from Spartan Stadium. After a few lackluster years, Michigan State has quickly put itself back on the national landscape after a quick 3-0 start. For Nebraska, they might only be 2-2 but last week's close game against Oklahoma has the fans thinking that maybe this is the team that turns the corner for the once-proud program. Nebraska was stunned in their Big Ten opener against Illinois and Michigan State took down Northwestern in their opener, setting the stage for a game that is still important for both teams this early in the season. The two teams have only met eleven times all-time, with Nebraska leading the series 9-2. The Cornhuskers have also taken each of the last two games in the series, winning at home in 2015 and 2018. Obviously, both programs have changed quite a bit since then and Saturday night's game will be a great one between two programs who really believe a return to national relevance is just a few wins away.

Nebraska Eyes Big Ten Opening Win

Nebraska has fallen on a hard time the last few years. Scott Frost's return to Lincoln was supposed to reignite the team and fanbase, but the Cornhuskers seem unable to even get out of their own way and sit at only 2-2 this season. An opening game loss to Illinois was a shocker to fans around the country and now with undefeated Michigan State on the schedule, the idea of going 0-2 to start of the conference slate is a very real possibility. Nebraska is also winless on the road this season and being the road team on Saturday doesn't set a good bearing for how the game might go in Michigan. It doesn't help that Nebraska has plenty of injuries that they're dealing with. On Offense, tight end Austin Allen (undisclosed), running back Gabe Ervin Jr. (knee), wide receiver Oliver Martin (undisclosed), and tight end Travis Vokolek (undisclosed), are all questionable for Saturday. From a depth perspective alone, this is difficult but they also can't afford to lose many more skilled players. On the defensive side, Casey Rogers (undisclosed) is also out but he has yet to play this season, so can only improve the defense if he can make it back.

Nebraska ranks 69th in points per game and has made an emphasis on establishing the running game. They rank 13th in rushing attempts per game and only 97th in passing attempts per game, despite ranking 35th in passing yards per game. The disparity there shows that there could be an improved effort to get things going through the air. Adrian Martinez is the definite leader, as one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. In four games, he's averaged 254 yards per game through the air and has added five touchdowns. He added 72.5 rushing yards per game, with another four touchdowns on the ground, and Michigan State's primary concern will be slowing him down and forcing the ball out of his hands. Samori Toure is the lead at wide receiver, averaging 83.25 receiving yards per game, but there isn't much help to him and Martinez. The running back room is thin and if Martinez gets taken out of the game plan, the Cornhuskers will have a tough time finding a win.

Defensively, Nebraska ranks 26th in the nation in points allowed per game, and especially last week against Oklahoma showed how strong they can be. Against what is expected to be one of the nation's top offenses and teams in the Sooners, they still allowed 400 yards of offense but were efficient with their red-zone defense. Luke Reimer leads the way with 35 tackles on defense, as well as an interception with two passes broken up and two quarterback hits. The secondary is the backbone of the defense having grabbed four interceptions already this season and forcing five turnovers total. Without winning the turnover battle, Nebraska will have a tough time coming out on top on Saturday night. Even with that though, slowing down the Spartans and taking them down will be tough given their Big Ten struggles of late, but Saturday is a chance for the program to yet again, try to turn the corner.

Michigan State Continues Surprisingly Hot Start

Michigan State has started the season off with a bang and hasn't had the easiest schedule to get to this point too. In the opener, they had to go on the road to Northwestern, winning that by 17, and then last week had to visit Miami, where they easily took down the Hurricanes for their first ranked win of the season. The Spartans suddenly find themselves ranked in this week's AP poll and the sky is the limit for a team that really now thinks they have a chance at the East Division championship. Michigan State ranks top 35 in the country in both points per game and points allowed per game, and their balance on both sides of the ball has slowly helped the team grow in confidence. The injury report isn't ideal for the Spartans, with five players questionable coming into Saturday night's home game. The offense is a little more beat up but won't have any starters out. On the defensive side, Carson Casteel (undisclosed) is a game-time decision, but shouldn't have a drastic impact on the defense one way or another. The home crowd will be excited to welcome back the Spartans after last week's big win and that energy should give them exactly what they need to ensure that there isn't a letdown in the Big Ten matchup.

Payton Thorne has stepped up in a big way at quarterback for the Spartans, throwing for nine touchdowns in just three games, and is yet to throw an interception. He's also added a touchdown on the ground but Kenneth Walker is the real focal point of the offense. He's averaging an absurd 164.33 rushing yards per game and right be the top back in the country. He's added five touchdowns as well and the balance of the offense has been difficult for anyone to slow down this year. The Spartans rank 29th in football in points per game and Walker is putting up his numbers with an offense that is ranked only 54th in rushing attempts per game. Expect a heavy dose of the running game on Saturday as they try to wear down the Nebraska front seven and pick their spots to take their shots downfield. Jayden Reed is averaging 92.33 receiving yards per game and has three touchdowns and if the Cornhuskers aren't careful, he'll be able to break one deep.

Defensively, Michigan State proved their ability to stop dual-threat quarterbacks in their handling of King from Miami last week. While King did have 388 passing yards, he also turned it over twice and only rushed for seven yards, making the offense nearly one-dimensional. If the Spartans can force Martinez into a similar type of night, a win will be well within reach. Xavier Henderson leads the team with 25 tackles and as a whole, the Spartans have eight sacks. The pass rush is key and Nebraska will need to take good care of the quarterback or else it could be a long night for Martinez and company.

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The Spartans are excited to welcome the Cornhuskers to town in a matchup that seems perfect to watch them move to 4-0. Martinez's dual-threat ability is typically an advantage but after Michigan State just spent a week preparing for King from Miami and stopped him pretty well. In terms of making him one-dimensional, they likely won't have any issues forcing Martinez into that similar role and forcing other Cornhuskers to try to contribute. Regardless of what they do on defense, Michigan State's offense is still elite in the Big Ten. They could be the most balanced team, between Thorne's arm and decision-making and Walker's ability on the ground. Add in it being a home game for Michigan State, under the lights too, and the atmosphere is going to be something that Nebraska hasn't seen in a few years. Expect the Spartans to come out flying on all cylinders and to make it an easy win as they move to 2-0 in conference play. Pressure is building for Scott Frost and company and they'll play like that on Saturday as they struggle on both sides of the ball and go with a whimper, leaving them at 0-2 in Big Ten play.

Prediction: Michigan State (-5)

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Nebraska's offense typically has the ability to put up big numbers with Martinez's dual-threat ability but Michigan State has an understanding and the right personnel to make sure he doesn't have his way on Saturday. For Michigan State, while they should have their way of scoring the ball, a heavy emphasis on the ground game likely means a pace that isn't conducive to over 50 points being scores. Additionally, according to covers.com, for Nebraska, the under is 4-0-1 in their last five games after accumulating more than 200 yards rushing in their previous game, is 4-0 in their last four games following an ATS win, is 6-0 in their last six games as an underdog, is 6-0 in their last six games as a road underdog, and is 4-0-1 in their last five conference games.

Prediction: Under 51.5
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Written By Eric Ploch , "Eric P."

Eric grew up surrounded by sports, whether it was spending the weekend catching games in person or on tv, or heading out to the fields to play whatever sport was in season. What started as a hobby, soon became a passion, as he became the sports editor of his high school newspaper, then wrote for his university newspaper during his undergrad years. After obtaining a degree in Sports Operations and Promotions, and spending 8 years deeply immersed in the sports world, Eric decided to take his love for analytics and predictions, and his experience, to online sports fans everywhere. James is now an integral part of our team here at StatSalt and has also been a very successful sports bettor over the years. Be sure and follow him daily.