What Husker fans need to know about the Michigan State Spartans
A preview of Michigan State, the first senior day game of the Scott Frost era.
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Record: 6-4 (4-3 Big Ten)
Offensive yards per play: 4.92 (T-117th nationally)
Defensive yards per play: 4.75 (T-18th)
Turnover margin: plus-1 (T-58th)
Penalty yards per game: 52 (55th)
Mark Dantonio (106-49 at MSU)
The 12th-year coach trails only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald in Big Ten longevity. He owns multiple Big Ten titles (2010, 2013, 2015) a Rose Bowl victory (2014) and has qualified for the College Football Playoff (2015). Outside of a 3-9 season in 2016, the program has reached a bowl game every year. Dantonio has built that consistency on defense, discipline and detail, having served under Nick Saban as defensive backs coach at Michigan State in the late 1990s and defensive coordinator at Ohio State under Jim Tressel from 2001-03.
Co-coordinators: Dave Warner and Jim Bollman
Warner and Bollman have shared duties for nearly six full seasons, with Warner the game-day play-caller and Bollman a considerable asset from his days as offensive coordinator at Ohio State (2001-11). The unit that leans on a power run game and big tight ends has struggled this year by most measures — total offense (111th nationally), passing (69th), rushing (117th) and scoring (118th). But injuries have also played a big role, and not just with starting quarterback Brian Lewerke (shoulder) a shadow of himself and likely to sit in favor of redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi. Lead running back LJ Scott also has been shut down.
Coordinator: Mike Tressel
The nephew of the former Ohio State coach moved into the full-time DC role this season after the man he shared it with the past three years, Harlon Barnett, left to run the defense at Florida State. Mike Tressel, a former linebackers assistant who has coached with Dantonio for 14 seasons, is guiding the nation’s best group against the run — 76.5 yards per game — and the No. 17 scoring defense — 19.7 points per game. The veteran unit is led by senior linebacker Andrew Dowell (team-best 75 tackles) and junior defensive end Kenny Willekes (8 1⁄2 sacks) with 12 interceptions (18th nationally) among nine players. The Spartans make opponents earn what they get — only five times have they allowed plays of 40-plus yards.
Players to watch
Willekes: The former walk-on linebacker is tops in the Big Ten in tackles for loss (17 for 79 yards) and second in sacks while also pacing the nation among defensive ends in quarterback hits (16). The 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior is coming off a third-team All-Big Ten campaign last year and registered a career-high 13 tackles last week against Ohio State.
Cody White, receiver: Someone has to catch passes for Michigan State, and the 6-3, 210-pound sophomore has been doing it well since returning from a four-game absence with a broken hand. He reeled in eight catches for 115 yards against Ohio State and needs 40 receiving yards to take the team lead (474). White set a school record for true freshmen with 490 receiving yards a year ago.
They said it
“It’s not our intent. We want to run the football, we need to run the football. I say that over and over every week, and that’s what we have to do.” — MSU coach Mark Dantonio, after the Spartans ran the ball 18 times — the fewest in the coach’s time at the school — last weekend
“They kind of do good with just trying to get us out of position by formation. They’re a big physical group, but we’re going to put a plan in place for that as well.” — Nebraska cornerback Lamar Jackson on the challenge of facing MSU’s offense
“Best thing about (the Michigan State defense), 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.” — Nebraska coach Scott Frost
5: Straight games Nebraska has scored a touchdown on its opening possession. Michigan State has allowed one touchdown on an opponent’s first drive all season while surrendering 27 total first-quarter points.
32: Percent of third-down conversions allowed by the Spartan defense this season, 14th nationally. Nebraska’s offense is converting at a 37.8 percent clip, which is 87th.
5: Punters used by Michigan State this season, including a backup quarterback. Injuries have factored in with true freshman William Przystup holding the job now.
Aug. 31 Utah State, W 38-31.
Sept. 8 at Arizona State, L 16-13.
Sept. 22 at Indiana, W 35-21.
Sept. 29 Central Michigan, W 31-20.
Oct. 6 Northwestern, L 29-19.
Oct. 13 at Penn State, W 21-17.
Oct. 20 Michigan, L 21-7.
Oct. 27 Purdue, W 23-13.
Nov. 3 at Maryland, W 24-3.
Nov. 10 Ohio State, L 26-6.
Nov. 17 at Nebraska.
Nov. 24 Rutgers