Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said the “results speak for themselves” with a Michigan State defense that ranks at or near the top in every statistical category nationally.
The Huskers (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) will have to solve that MSU defense on Saturday to avoid getting knocked from the Legends Division race.
“When you’re up there as high as they are in all the categories they’re in, they’re as good as it comes,” Pelini said Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference. “They’ve earned it. It’s not like any preseason hype or anything like that, this is for real. They’re doing it and they do it week after week.”
Heading into a 2:30 p.m. game Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the Spartans rank No. 1 in rushing defense (43.4 yards per game), total defense (210.2) and pass efficiency defense (90.29 ranking). They’re also No. 3 in passing defense (166.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (11.6 points per game).
Indiana, which lost 42-28 to MSU on Oct. 12, is the only team to score more than 17 points against the Spartans, and their last three opponents have combined for just nine.
Pelini said the unit led by defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi plays the right way.
“They play hard,” he said. “They’re sound in what they do, they’re very well-coached and they have experience. They kind of have all the ingredients you look for. They do a good job. They’re a formidable group. They play with passion.”
Pelini also talked briefly about the Michigan State offense and sophomore quarterback Connor Cook during his weekly Big Ten segment.
“They’re physical. They run the ball. They take care of the football very well,” Pelini said. “I think the young quarterback’s a very talented young man who’s getting better. He makes good decisions.
“There’s nothing fancy, but they’re sound in what they do and they’re very well-coached. I think they’re executing at a higher level more and more as the season goes on, and that’s a sign of a well-coached football team.”
Nebraska has beaten Michigan State the last two seasons and owns a 7-0 all-time mark against the Spartans. MSU coach Mark Dantonio said his team isn’t motivated, however, by the Huskers’ 28-24 comeback win last year in East Lansing or the 24-3 decision two years ago in Lincoln.
Michigan State (8-1, 5-0) can eliminate everybody but Minnesota from the Legends race with a win.
“I think the main focus that we have right now is not so much Nebraska – it happens to be Nebraska for us, happens to be Michigan State for Nebraska – but earning that opportunity to go to the championship game,” Dantonio said. “That’s what we’re focused on. The road goes through Lincoln for Michigan State.”
Dantonio has taken note of the Nebraska defense playing better the last six quarters, and was asked if he expects some of the same pressure on Cook that the Huskers applied to Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner on Saturday.
“Nebraska plays excellent defense,” Dantonio said. “They’re going to pressure the quarterback and try to put us behind the chains. It’ll be a big game for Connor Cook, another growing experience for him. There’s a lot of similarities between their team and ours, in terms of the way we’re getting to where we’re at.”
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Listen: Bo Pelini on the Big Ten teleconference: