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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State is off to a historic start on offense and welcomes another high-scoring team to begin Big Ten play against Nebraska at 8 p.m. Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
MSU (3-1) is ranked No. 10 in the AP poll and has scored 201 points through four games, best in school history. No. 19 Nebraska (5-0 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) is averaging 45.4 points per game.
"Two competitive football teams, two teams that don't want to lose," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. "You can feel the emotion from both football teams. . That's what makes college football so great, so unique."
Emotions will be higher than usual Saturday in what could be a preview of this year's Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. MSU must run the table in conference play if it hopes to earn a playoff berth, and Nebraska might be the toughest remaining opponent on the Spartans' schedule. So this is certainly a game with big postseason implications for both teams.
"I think it's gonna be a classic Big Ten game," left tackle Jack Conklin said. "It's a night game with another great Big Ten team, especially for me going against a guy like (Nebraska defensive end) Randy Gregory. It doesn't get much better for me competition-wise."
The Spartans are first in the Big Ten in scoring offense with the Cornhuskers No. 2 — an interesting dynamic considering Dantonio and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini are former defensive coordinators. Nebraska beat MSU 28-24 in 2012 at Spartan Stadium, but this game should feature more offensive highlights.
"It doesn't seem like it's out of the norm in this day and age in college football," Dantonio said of high-scoring affairs. "There are so many different ways people are lining up and creating motion and creating different formations, and it's sort of cutting edge. You see that from our offense as well."
The Spartans showed some new wrinkles on offense during a 56-14 win over Wyoming Saturday. Co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner and Jim Bollman called a variety of end-around plays for the wide receivers and stretched the defense in different ways. Five different players had rushing touchdowns, and wideout Keith Mumphery tallied 46 rushing yards and one score on three carries. MSU has gained more than 300 yards in its last two games, but Nebraska boasts the top rushing attack in the conference.
"We definitely want to keep up our run game and we want to be known as the run team in the Big Ten," Conklin said. "We're supposed to be this power team that runs the ball right at you, and it's gonna be a good game with two strong, physical teams."
Nebraska is looking to stay in first place of the West Division coming off a 45-14 win over Illinois Saturday, during which star running back Ameer Abdullah racked up 208 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Backup tailback Imani Cross also ran for 100-plus yards.
It's a tough challenge for a Spartans defense that is giving up more big plays than the 2013 installment, a unit that was No. 1 in the nation in total defense for most of last season. Dantonio said he isn't as concerned as some, with MSU playing six new starters on defense this year.
"Last year's defense set the bar very high," Dantonio said. "Our defense is not broke. I know that we gave up a whopping 14 points last week, but our defense is not broke."
Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun isn't satisfied with the Spartans' defense through four games, so Saturday is the perfect opportunity to make a conference-wide statement.
"We have been giving up too many points," Calhoun said. "Can we be at our best this week? They're a great team and we want to be known as a great team. . It's time for us to fix our mistakes."
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