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Michigan State's Defense vs Nebraska's Offense: Spartans Not As Dangerous As They Look?

Michigan State's defense hasn't faced an offense this season as efficient or explosive as Nebraska's. Considering what they've played against, are they really that scary?

William Gholston, great defensive end, cheap shot artist.
William Gholston, great defensive end, cheap shot artist.

Much has been made of Michigan State's defense this season, yet when you look at the opponents they've played so far, you can quickly conclude that they haven't faced a team like Nebraska.

I'm not going to get into heavy statistics. I keep thinking it'd be sweet to have someone doing that here at Corn Nation, but I wonder sometimes if we try to make what is a relatively simple game of blocking and tackling into something more complex that it needs to be.

The table is very simple. It's a list of Michigan State's 2012 opponents and their national ranking in various statistics. The statistics aren't taking into account Nebraska's tendency to turn the ball over, or shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, but only pertain to Nebraska's offense versus Michigan State's defense.

Opponent Total Offense Scoring Offense Rushing Offense Passing Offense YPG Passing Efficiency 3rd Down Conv % Long Plays 20+ Yrds
Boise State 77 62 58 79 64 19 97
Central Michigan 73 72 83 51 56 85 62
Notre Dame 69 76 33 97 83 47 42
Eastern Michigan 103 98 78 103 100 123 52
Ohio State 45 21 10 105 58 38 31
Indiana 37 33 73 27 54 88 78
Iowa 104 107 87 100 118 87 106
Michigan 82 63 27 111 110 23 62
Wisconsin 95 80 44 107 50 109 42
Nebraska 15 18 7 72 17 43 7

Some Additional Notes About The Spartan Defense:

- The Spartans have only given up three rushing touchdowns all season.

- They've only given up seven passing touchdowns all season, three of those versus Indiana.

- Michigan State leads the Big Ten in three defensive stats - total defense, rushing defense, and scoring defense. They are fourth in passing defense.

- The Hoosiers are the only team to throw over 200 yards against them (282), while Ohio State is the only team to rush for over 200 yards (204, 136 for Braxton Miller).

- Four teams have averaged over 3.5 yards per rushing attempt against Michigan State; Notre Dame (3.59), Ohio State (4.64), Iowa (3.62), and Michigan (5.09). Three of those games were Michigan State losses.

There are some easy takeaways:

- Michigan State has only played two offenses ranked in the top half of the nation in total offense, Ohio State and Indiana. They lost to Ohio State 17-16 and beat Indiana 31-27.

- They've played against some pretty bad passing teams, five of which are ranked below 100th nationally (nearly six in Notre Dame).

- Nebraska's pass offense gives them an edge over everyone else Michigan State has see this season.

- No one on Michigan State's schedule is close to Nebraska's explosive play abilities. The Huskers have had 51 plays of 20+ yards. Kenny Bell accounts for 10 of those plays.


- Nebraska doesn't need to be dominant in the running game, just pick up decent yardage (four yards per carry would be good) and eliminate negative plays.

- The only part of this game that is truly terrifying is William Gholston against Taylor Martinez. Husker fans would do well to remember Gholston's suspension last season for punching Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, and his twisting of Denard Robinson's neck during a tackle. If Michigan State wanted to win this game, they'd take Martinez out of it. Given Mark Dantonio's willingness to tolerate such cheap shots, I don't put such actions past them.