How the Nebraska offense might attack the Michigan State defense was a topic of conversation Tuesday on the weekly Big Ten teleconference.
Asked if being the aggressor might be the best-case scenario for NU, head coach Bo Pelini said it’s “always important” to try to do what you want to do first.
“I think that’s what everybody goes into a game thinking,” Pelini said. “They want to be the aggressor and they want to be able to take what you want to do.
“But sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way, so you’ve got to be able to react, adapt and do the things on any given night that are going to give you the best chance to win the football game.”
Balance will likely be important for the Huskers against the Spartans. Nebraska has been a little more run-heavy in recent weeks — throwing fewer than 25 passes in each of the last three games — but mostly because it hasn’t been stopped much by Fresno State, Miami or Illinois.
Michigan State currently ranks No. 4 nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 78.3 yards per game.
“I think we have balance in everything we do,” Pelini said. “It doesn’t always show, because at the end of the day you’re going to take somewhat what’s given to you. You’re going to stay with what’s working for you.
“But I think we’ve shown we have the ability to throw the ball down the field, we have the ability to make big plays in the passing game. But we want to run the football, too.”
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said he is impressed by what the Huskers have been doing as they come out of September ranked No. 8 in total offense (572.6 yards per game), No. 2 in rushing offense (354.8) and No. 7 in scoring (45.4).
One thing Dantonio expects is a different Tommy Armstrong at quarterback now that the sophomore has 13 career starts under his belt, gaining “valuable experience” since he struggled against the Spartans last November.
And Dantonio said MSU won’t fall asleep on the Husker passing game.
“They can throw the football,” Dantonio said. “They’ve got great wide receivers in Jordan (Westerkamp) and then Kenny Bell. The tight ends have been effective as well. And Ameer Abdullah can catch the ball out of the backfield. So they’ve got guys.
"The bottom line is, most of the time, they’ve been running the football because they’ve had so much success doing it. They’re an outstanding offense. Coach (Tim) Beck does a great job with it. And it’ll be a great challenge, a tremendous challenge for us this weekend, to stop Nebraska.”
Some other items from Pelini and Dantonio on the Big Ten call:
>> Pelini said he also has witnessed the development with Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook.
“I think he’s very comfortable in the offense, knows where to go with the football. He’s very decisive in his decision-making, and has a really good handle on what they’re trying to do offensively. I think he’s a really good player. Really good.”
>> Pelini was two segments behind Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who talked nothing but the Shane Morris/concussion situation with reporters. Without mentioning any coach or program, Pelini had this response to a question:
“I can tell you this: I’ve never been around a coach — and I’m sure there’s no coach in our conference — that would ever put somebody out there, who was aware that somebody got dinged. And for anybody to imply otherwise is wrong. I can say that. You don’t want it to slip by, and if it did I’m sure somebody is sorry about it.”
>> Dantonio on Westerkamp, who has 16 receptions through five games, including two of the spectacular variety: “He’s a guy that’s an extremely disciplined route-runner. He’s a big-play guy, catches the ball very effectively. He’s tough. He’s an outstanding player for them.”
>> One of the best players on the field Saturday night will be Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Dantonio said that isn’t by accident.
“Shilique is just an extremely hard worker,” Dantonio said. “From day one when he walked in here, he set his mind that he was always going to get better. Regardless of what he is (now), he critiques who he is, and tries to up the ante a little bit in every aspect. So he’s going to continue to try to get better, strong, more athletic.”