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Spartans visit Cornhuskers in pivotal Big Ten clash

Fresh off their most thrilling victory of the ranked Michigan State Spartans hit the road for yet another ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers this Saturday.

The Spartans claimed a wild 37-31 win over previously unbeaten Wisconsin on Saturday night, doing so after a 44-yard Hail Mary pass was ruled a TD after initially being ruled just short. The win improved Michigan State to 6-1 on the year, and it was the 12th straight home victory for the club. MSU also ruined the Badgers' undefeated season for the second straight year.

Coach Mark Dantonio was beyond thrilled with the outcome of last week's game, "Wow. That is about all I can say. Our guys worked extremely hard." He went on to discuss why you can never be satisfied with what you've accomplished to a certain point, "There is always something more that you can improve on. That's what we do as a program. We critique what we've done. We've won 17 out of our last 20 games. We are just going to keep competing, and good things can happen for us."

Nebraska ran its record to 6-1 as well last weekend, as it hammered the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis, 41-14. Coach Bo Pelini's squad suffered its lone loss of the season at Wisconsin (48-17) back on October 1, but has won two in a row since, including a come-from-behind triumph at home over Ohio State. The Cornhuskers have won seven straight home games, and they have won eight straight home bouts against teams that currently call the Big Ten home. The last such team to earn a win in Lincoln was Penn State back in 1981, although the Nittany Lions were a Division I Independent at the time.

Nebraska has never lost to Michigan State in five previous matchups, and the most recent meeting took place in the 2003 Alamo Bowl, a game the Huskers won by the final score of 17-3.

The Spartans were outgained by the Badgers last weekend, 443-399, but Kirk Cousins, who is now the winningest QB in school history (22 wins), completed 22-of-31 passes for 290 yards and three scores. Keith Nichol, a former backup signal caller, found himself in the right place at the right time, after coming up with the carom and pushing his way ever so slightly into the end zone. WR B.J. Cunningham tallied a game-high 102 receiving yards and a TD on six grabs, while the ground attack featured RB Le'Veon Bell, who set season highs with 16 carries for 87 yards.

The MSU defense bent at times versus Wisconsin, but made some big plays as well. The unit was credited with a pair of INTs and two sacks, and LB Chris Norman finished with a team-high nine tackles.

For the season, the Spartans are averaging 29.3 points and 388.9 total yards per contest. With Cousins (.667 completion percentage, 11 TDs, four INTs) managing the game efficiently, MSU is generating 250.9 passing ypg. Cunningham has a club-best 48 catches for 723 yards and three scores, while RB Edwin Baker (99 carries, 434 yards, two TDs) paces the run game, although it isn't exactly the mode of attack that is going to strike fear into the hearts of any opponent. Bell averages 5.0 ypc and has scored six TDs.

Defensively, the Spartans are yielding just 13.7 ppg, one of the lowest figures in the country, and they are giving up just 222.9 total ypg (88.9 ypg rushing, 134.0 ypg passing). Linebackers Max Bullough and Norman sit atop the team's tackles list with 45 and 44, respectively, and the unit as a whole logged 53 TFL, 23 sacks and 10 INTs. LB Denicos Allen has six sacks, and safety Isaiah Lewis has four picks.

Rex Burkhead rushed for 117 yards and a TD, helping the Cornhuskers steamroll the hometown Minnesota Golden Gophers last Saturday. When the dust had settled, Nebraska piled up a season-high 346 yards on the ground, 515 in all. NU is 6-0 this season when rushing for 200 yards, and is 16-0 the past two seasons when doing so. QB Taylor Martinez threw for 162 yards and a TD against the hapless Gophers, and freshman Kenny Bell led all receivers in the game with four grabs (25 yards), but his biggest contribution came on an 82-yard reverse that resulted in NU's second TD of the game.

The Nebraska defense got into the scoring act as well last week, as Austin Cassidy returned a fumble 11 yards for a TD in the second quarter. The Huskers held the Gophers to 254 total yards, and didn't allow a point until midway through the third quarter.

Coach Pelini knows his team will have its hands full against a Michigan State team that performs well on both sides of the ball. He was particularly impressed with the way the Spartans played against a very good Wisconsin squad last week, "They hung with it and they kept executing. They kept doing their stuff. They made a few big plays to get back into the game and finished the game strong. They just kind of hung in there. Once they got ahead, they answered the bell every time they needed to. It's the sign of a good football team."

Nebraska averages a robust 37.6 ppg, doing so behind more than 432 ypg of total offense. The run is clearly the weapon of choice, as it churns out 261.0 ypg and has accounted for 23 of the team's 30 TDs on the season. Burkhead has gained 752 yards and scored 10 TDs, while Martinez is close behind with 636 yards and nine scores. Martinez averages just 168 passing ypg, and he has tossed seven scoring strikes against six INTs. No receiver has more than 15 catches for the year.

From a defensive standpoint, Pelini's club is giving up 25.3 ppg, a figure he would clearly like to see decrease. Lavonte David is one of the more productive defenders in the Big Ten, having amassed 64 tackles in seven games, and he also has a pair of sacks and an INT to his credit.