Streaking Nebraska riding defense against struggling Michigan State

Nebraska will try to use the same formula that has led to a three-game win streak when it visits Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich.

The Cornhuskers (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) have limited their last three opponents to a combined 30 points, most recently beating Purdue 31-14 at home to move within a game of being bowl eligible for the first time in seven years. Overall, they’re allowing 18.6 points per game, sixth best in the conference and 21st nationally.

A year ago, they were near the bottom of the Big Ten in most defensive categories, but first-year coach Matt Rhule still isn’t satisfied.

“We didn’t play nearly as well on defense as the stats denoted,” Rhule said.

Michigan State (2-6, 0-5) is the one giving up a lot of points (27.8 per game) and not scoring many (18.0), reaching the 20-point mark only once during a six-game losing streak. The Spartans’ season went into disarray in mid-September when coach Mel Tucker was suspended, and eventually fired, over allegations of sexual harassment.

The most recent loss, 27-12 at Minnesota, saw the Spartans allow only 10 points through the first three quarters after losing 49-0 the previous week.

“That’s something we’ve got to build on,” interim MSU coach Harlon Barnett said.

Nebraska has been able to win of late despite being near the bottom nationally in turnover margin at minus-9. The Cornhuskers have given it away 19 times, including nine in the past three games.

“We’re last in the nation in fumbles (24), last in the nation in fumbles lost (11),” Rhule said. “That falls squarely on my head.”

Another win will not only ensure Nebraska goes bowling for the first time since playing in the Music City Bowl in 2016 but also will give the program its longest win streak since an eight-game run in 2015-16.

MSU is trying to avoid matching the seven-game skid it had in 2016, when it went 3-9 for the Spartans’ worst season since 1994.

Nebraska holds a 9-3 lead in the series, winning six of seven meetings at home, but the Spartans took the last matchup 23-20 in overtime in East Lansing in 2021.

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