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Know Thy Enemy: What Spartan Players Do The Huskers Need to Worry About?

Here's to hoping there isn't this much joy in Sparty when they head to Lincoln this weekend.
Here's to hoping there isn't this much joy in Sparty when they head to Lincoln this weekend.

In all the years I've watched Big Ten football I can't think of a more unpredictable team than the Michigan State Spartans. History bears that out, as the Spartans have never defeated three ranked teams in a row. Unfortunately, as Captain Obvious would state, history isn't going to be taking the field Saturday against the Cornhuskers. 

For this week's Q&A, CN is joined by Pete Rossman of the SB Nation Michigan State site The Only Colors. While I didn't ask about the site name (and should have), I did learn about the phrase "Sparty No!" and the players that Husker fans should be aware of - those beyond just standard fare at least. 

These Big Ten guys, they're more honest with themselves than I'm accustomed to. Pete's prediction may surprise you. It sure surprised me.

My impression of Michigan State over the years has been one of a crazy girlfriend. One week the Spartans are world-beaters, the next week they're losing to someone they have no business losing to. Is this impression true, outdated, or am I completely ignorant of Spartan history?

You're definitely not ignorant of Spartan history, as past teams had a maddening inconsistency.  However, I feel this impression is a bit outdated.   MSU only lost two games (albeit badly) last year -- one to an Alabama team fed with bovine growth hormone topped with high voltage, and an Iowa team that decided to coast to their bowl game after their victory over the Spartans.  However, Michigan State has won many more games in the 4th quarter than they've choked away in previous seasons, so I feel that moniker of "Same Old Spartans" and "Sparty No!" has been expunged for the most part.

Running backs Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell - describe the running style of each, talking about their strengths and weaknesses. Do they complement each other, or should one be starting and carrying the bulk of the load over the other?

If I had to differentiate, Baker's more of the home run back -- at 5'9" and 210 lbs, he has the muscle to break a tackle or two and dart into the end zone.  At 6'2" and 237 lbs, Bell is more of a power back, but can also break a run or two to the outside and is shiftier than his size shows.  However, they're used interchangeably. Baker gets the starts, but if one running back has the hot hand, Dantonio will ride that back.  Along with third-down back Larry Caper they're listed as co=starters, which is accurate.

The Spartan defense was supposed to suffer a huge setback due to the loss of Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. That hasn't happened. It this because the linebacker replacements are that good, or are there other parts of this defense making up the difference?

I'd say both parts are correct.  The linebacker replacements have surpassed my expectations; Max Bullough is an excellent replacement for Greg Jones on the inside, and Denicos Allen has made big play after big play (10th in sacks, 11th in tackles for a loss in the FBS) in lieu of Eric Gordon.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the defensive ends though.  Controversy aside, William Gholston is a tall, weighty player with the speed to make a play from the backside.  Redshirt freshman Marcus Rush has been fantastic as well on the edge.

Nebraska fans should know about Kirk Cousins, Edwin Baker, and B.J. Cunningham. Who are some of the other playmakers they should know about on offense and defense?

Wide receiver and punt returner Keshawn Martin has had four touchdowns in the past few games.  He's the fastest wide receiver on the team, and although his hands can be an issue at times, he can make multiple defenders miss  when he has the ball.  On defense, Johnny Adams is one of the best cornerbacks the Spartans have had in a long, long time.  He's physical, is almost always playing the ball, and although he seems to have a dumb late hit penalty every other game, I'm so glad MSU has him.

What do you see in the Huskers that gives you confidence about a win this Saturday?

That their offense is very similar to Michigan's and Ohio State's with Braxton Miller -- both run-first offenses with quarterbacks that have trouble completing passes down the field.  MSU had very good success stopping both those attacks, and I'm not sure Taylor Martinez can throw effectively enough to stop the Spartans from keying off the run.


Despite how glowingly I've talked about my team, intangibles are also at work.  MSU came off one of its most emotionally charged victories ever, and is playing a Husker team with its backs against the wall.  Although Nebraska's offense may be one dimensional, I think the run game for UN works well enough that they eke out a victory.  Nebraska 27, Michigan State 24.