This will be the 13th matchup all-time between the two programs. Nebraska holds a commanding 9-3 lead in the series all-time. The last time these two programs met was in 2021, a 23-20 win for Michigan State in East Lansing. Before that loss, the Huskers had won the two previous matchups after losing back-to-back games in 2013 and 2014.
Entering this weekend, the Cornhuskers are 5-3 on the season and 3-2 in Big Ten play. It was the Husker’s third straight win and fifth win in their last six games. For Michigan State, the Spartans are 2-6 and losers of six consecutive games. Last week, they fell to Minnesota on the road 27-12.
Here’s what you need to know about Michigan State before Saturday’s matchup.
Head Coach: Harlon Barnett
Interim head coach Harlon Barnett took over the program when Mel Tucker was suspended and eventually fired for sexual harassment of rape survivor Benda Tracy. When Barnett took over the Spartans were 2-0 with strong back-to-back performances to start the season. Since then, it’s been tough sledding for Barnett as the Spartans have lost six games. Michigan State wasn’t expected to be particularly good to begin with in 2023 but this season has surely gone much worse than expected as well. That being said, a credit to Barnett is that the Spartans despite everything that has occurred this season have not shown any quit.
The Spartans offense this season has been very rough to say the least, averaging 18.0 points per game which ranks 127th in the country. This will be a good matchup for the Huskers’ defense which has been impressive for the most part this season.
At quarterback, the Spartans have primarily used Noah Kim and Katin Houser, neither having great success, combining for just under 1,600 yards, eight touchdowns, and eight interceptions. They’ve also played a bit of Sam Leavitt who has shown flashes thanks to his dual-threat capabilities including last week against Minnesota, leading a scoring drive in the fourth quarter.
The Spartans’ passing game has struggled in part due to a weak wide receiver room. Current Florida State wide receiver Keon Coleman left the program this offseason and the Spartans have not found a way to replace him.
The rushing attack has been decent with former UConn tailback Nate Carter leading the way. Carter has totaled 609 yards in eight games this season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He also has 17 receptions for 89 yards. Backup tailback Jalen Berger struggled this season, averaging 3.7 yards per carry before sustaining a season-ending injury.
Notably, the Spartans have struggled to prevent chaos this season, allowing 13 sacks but have also turned the ball over 19 times through eight games this season.
The Spartans’ defense is an interesting case study. On paper, they’re allowing nearly 28 points per game but this is a Michigan State defense that is quite a bit better than that number would indicate.
Despite allowing Minnesota to run for 200+ yards last week, the Spartans’ run defense this season has been solid, allowing just 3.6 yards per carry. They notably were able to contain Michigan’s deadly run game a few weeks ago to just 120 yards and 3.5 yards per carry.
Their secondary hasn’t been great but it has done the trick for the most part, allowing 234 passing yards per game. They have had tough performances against the two best teams they’ve played this season in Michigan and Washington allowing 357 and 536 passing yards in those two games. Outside that pair of games, the Spartans have kept each opposing quarterback to 223 yards or less.
Where the Spartans have tended to struggle is getting off the field on quick possession changes such as turnovers. Thanks to the offense turning the ball over 19 times this season, the Spartans’ defense has been put in tough spots all season long especially in their own territory. While being able to get off the field in these situations is crucial to a good defense, it’s one of the few areas this season where the Spartans have consistently struggled.
When it comes to special teams, the Spartans are quite solid this season across the board.
In the return game, Tyrell Henry will handle most of the duties. He’s averaging 17.3 yards per kick return this season and 8.2 yards per punt return. Kicker Jonathan Kim is perfect in extra point attempts while being 9-for-12 in field goal opportunities.
When it comes to the punting duties, Ryan Eckley has been solid for the Spartans, averaging 44.7 yards per punt this season.
From last week’s availability report, the two potential injuries to note are tight end Malik Carr and defensive end Zion Young.
Carr this season has 19 receptions for 201 yards and one touchdown while Young on the defensive side of the ball is tenth on the Spartans with 24 tackles. He also has 4.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks.