Michigan State has survived each test that has come its way this season, whether it’s been a season-opening conference game on the road, a trap game in its home opener against an FCS opponent and a road game against a previously ranked opponent.
Now, a different sort of challenge awaits the suddenly resurgent Spartans.
Fresh off an undefeated start and a newly-minted No. 20 ranking, Michigan State (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) will have to demonstrate it can handle success and expectations when it plays host to Nebraska on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich.
After opening the season with a 38-21 win at Northwestern, the Spartans took care of an inferior opponent in Week 2 with a 42-14 win over Youngstown State.
Last week, Michigan State made a statement to the nation by going on the road and earning a 38-17 win at then-No. 24 Miami, seemingly gaining strength in the later stages of the game in the South Florida heat.
Still, Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker feels it’s just the beginning for his team.
“We have not played our best football,” Tucker said. “We have not reached our full potential. There is still more to do, a lot more to do. The season is still very early and we have some tough opponents.”
Leading the way has been running back Kenneth Walker III, a transfer from Wake Forest who has been a revelation. Walker rushed for 172 yards on 27 carries against Miami.
Sophomore Payton Thorne has also seemed to take hold of the starting quarterback job. He has thrown for nine touchdowns and no interceptions so far this year.
“We have a team that’s hungry with a chip on their shoulder and we know we’re going to learn from this and we’re going to continue to improve and get better,” Tucker said.
Michigan State hopes to continue its hot start against Nebraska (2-2, 0-1), coming off a 23-16 loss at No. 4 Oklahoma.
The Cornhuskers actually did better than most thought against the Sooners, given they entered as 22 1/2-point underdogs.
Nebraska hopes that can be something to build on going into East Lansing.
“I thought we went toe-to-toe with them up front on both sides of the ball,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said of the Oklahoma game. “We still want to see some more crease runs (on offense). That’s really the piece that’s missing. One little block that’s a little bit better, hitting the hole a little better, and generating some of the explosive plays in the run game. If we start doing that, we’re going to be pretty dangerous.”
What was really encouraging for Nebraska against Oklahoma was the performance of veteran quarterback Adrian Martinez, who has been up-and-down this season and throughout his career.
Martinez was certainly up against Oklahoma, going 19-of-25 passing for 289 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
“Going down the stretch here, every game is a ‘need’ win for us,” Martinez said. “That’s how we are approaching it. We know that any given Saturday, we can win those games. We need to approach each game with the intensity we did in the Oklahoma week.”
Nebraska running back Gabe Ervin Jr. injured his right knee against the Sooners and could miss the rest of the season. Ervin has 107 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.
–Field Level Media