No. 9 Michigan State Spartans (6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS) vs. No. 13 Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-1 SU, 2-5 ATS), 12:00 p.m. EST, Week 9 NCAA Football, Saturday, October 29, 2011, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., TV: ESPN
by Badger, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MSU +4/Neb -4
Over/Under Total: OFF
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The 9th-ranked Michigan State Spartans jumped a few rungs up the BCS Championship ladder with a huge victory over previously unbeaten Wisconsin last weekend, but this week they will face their first huge challenge away from the friendly confines of Spartan Stadium when they travel to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln to take on the 13th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in another huge Big Ten Conference showdown Saturday on ESPN.
Sparty had their prayers answered in the form of a, 37-31, victory last week over the Badgers, scoring the huge win when a Hail Mary pass at the end of the game deflected off a helmet and into the hands of Keith Nichol on the goal line. Originally ruled down at the half-yard line, the instant replay officials overruled the crew on the field and gave the Spartans the win that catapulted them up to No. 11 in the current BCS standings.
Despite all of the drama at the end, the Spartans played a solid all around game to score the victory, intercepting Russell Wilson twice, blocking a field goal attempt and blocking a punt for a touchdown to score their second straight crucial victory in as many weeks.
Nebraska enters Saturday’s showdown fresh off a, 41-14, drubbing of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Cornhuskers opened up a 34-0 halftime lead behind a remarkable 346 yards rushing on the ground (6.2 ypc) and never really looked back in the lopsided win over the Gophers.
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But the non-conference-like tune up game is over and now the Huskers will have to step up their game at home against a tough Spartans defense, with a chance at first place in the new Legends Division of the Big Ten on the line.
Giving credit to Michigan State for all that they have accomplished the past few weeks, the college game is still a game of home field advantage, which is why the oddsmakers opened Saturday’s game with Nebraska as 4.5-point favorites at home in Memorial Stadium. Most of the sportsbooks in Las Vegas and on the Web have dropped the hook to list the number at Huskers minus -4, and there’s even a scant few down to 3.5-points since most of the early money on this game is coming in on the red hot Spartans.
As of press time the over/under total has yet to be released.
When you breakdown this game offensively it’s clear to see that Michigan State has more run-pass balance than the Cornhuskers, but it could be argued that Nebraska has more game-breakers on their side of the ball.
With quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead fueling the running attack, Nebraska goes for over 261 yards a game on the ground (7th in NCAA). After watching the Badgers gouge the Spartans top-10 defense for over 220 yards last week, with a 5.4 yards per carry average, you can bet Michigan State will see a steady diet of the Huskers read-option this weekend.
It’s when the Huskers and Martinez are forced to throw the ball that the get in trouble. With just a 171 yards a game average, it’s clear to everyone that Martinez struggles to read coverages and getting the ball out on the perimeter to his receivers. Michigan State also features one of the best secondaries in the game, allowing just 134 yards a game (2nd), so the Huskers could struggle again this week if they are forced to throw to win it.
But the Spartans best defense against the Huskers this week could turn out to be their offense. With senior Kirk Cousins at QB the Spartans can spread the field and pick apart the Nebraska defense, a defense that isn’t exactly up to par with the famous “Blackshirts” units of old and one that is allowing 355 yards a game (42nd).
If Michigan State can get out to a quick lead and force Nebraska to throw to play catch up it will give them a huge advantage. The Spartans can also control the clock with a one-two punch of Le’Veon Bell (6 TD) and Edwin Baker (434 yards) on the ground, against a Huskers defense that at times has been blown off the ball in the run game (162.7 ypg – 70th).
This will be the fourth time these two schools have met on the gridiron, with Nebraska holding a perfect 3-0 record straight up and against the spread. The last meeting was back in 2003, in what turned into a, 17-3, non-conference victory for the Huskers at home in Memorial Stadium as 3-point favorites. These two also played a home-and-home series in 1995 and 1996, with Nebraska winning big (50-10 in ’95; 55-14 in ’96) in both occasions.
Due to the limited history between these teams there are very few betting trends to follow.
Michigan State is 4-0 ATS in their last four Big Ten games, while the Cornhuskers have struggled for gamblers when they’ve played at home going 0-5 ATS in their last five in Lincoln. However, the Spartans do not play well as underdogs on the road (3-8 ATS as road dogs; 2-7 ATS as dog of 3.5 to 10 points).
If there is a trend to follow, it would be on the under. Michigan State has played under the total in five of their last seven Big Ten games (5-2) and the under is also 4-1 when they are road underdogs. The under is also 7-2 for Nebraska in their last nine games following an ATS win, and it’s also 17-6 in their last 23 games played in October.
Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I have a really hard time believing the Spartans can get it going for another huge game for the third week in a row. It’s a classic letdown spot for them in this game as well. I’m not exactly sold on the Cornhuskers offense yet, or their defense for that matter, but my gut is telling me that they can win this game … somehow. I’m taking Nebraska minus the points.
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