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No. 19 Huskers are heading to No. 10 Michigan State with memories of turnover-filled 2013 loss

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Tommy Armstrong Jr. has been waiting for this week for almost a year.

The Nebraska quarterback will be looking for atonement Saturday when the No. 19 Cornhuskers (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) visit No. 10 Michigan State (3-1).

Of Armstrong's eight starts last season, his biggest regret is the 41-28 loss to the Spartans in Lincoln. He committed three of the Huskers' five turnovers in a game that began a run of losses in two of three to end the regular season. Michigan State went on to win the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl.

Yes, this week's game in East Lansing, Michigan, is personal to Armstrong.

"We saw ourselves beat ourselves, honestly," he said. "I feel like this year is going to be totally different. We have to take care of the football, run our offense and make sure we make plays."

Unlike last year, Nebraska and Michigan State are in separate divisions, and November road games against Wisconsin and Iowa could end up being more meaningful for the Huskers in the Big Ten West.

But with last year's turnovers the difference in the game against Michigan State, it's easy to understand why the Huskers are bent on getting payback. The Spartans converted the turnovers into 24 points.

"It's a big week; it's another Big Ten game," safety Nate Gerry said. "I feel like we have to put every ounce of energy into this game just because we get a bye week after this week. We need to have a great week of preparation and practices that roll over into Saturday because going into East Lansing isn't easy, especially with the great team they have."

PHOTO: Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. throws during warmups before an NCAA college football game against Illinois in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. throws during warmups before an NCAA college football game against Illinois in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

What was so maddening last year for Nebraska was that it proved it could move the ball against the Spartans' vaunted defense.

Michigan State had come into Lincoln with the nation's best run defense. Ameer Abdullah ran for 123 yards to become the first 100-yard rusher against the Spartans in 2013, and the Huskers finished with 182 yards on the ground.

This year the Spartans are No. 6 against the run, allowing 81 yards a game and 2.9 yards per attempt. No one has gone for 100 against them.

Abdullah, coming off a 208-yard game in Nebraska's 45-14 win over Illinois, has three 200-yard outings this season. With an average of 167 yards a game, he's the nation's second-leading rusher behind Indiana's Tevin Coleman.

The Huskers are third in rushing in the Bowl Subdivision, and first among teams in the power five conferences, with 355 yards a game.

As impressive as the Huskers have been offensively, coach Bo Pelini is concerned about defensive lapses. The Huskers have given up long scoring drives on their first defensive series in four of five games.

Saturday, Illinois' Reilly O'Toole, who filled in for injured quarterback Wes Lunt, led his team on a 70-yard touchdown drive after Nebraska scored on its first possession. The Illini's second offensive series reached the Nebraska 4 before O'Toole was intercepted in the end zone.

"We've got to quit shooting ourselves in the foot early on in games defensively," Pelini said. "We eventually settled down and played pretty well. There were some things that were inexcusable that happened early in the game."

Pelini also was upset about the turnover bug reappearing. Armstrong was intercepted on a bad pass over the middle, and backup running back Imani Cross had the ball stripped.

"Things that don't magnify themselves tonight," Pelini warned after the game, "could magnify themselves a week from now."

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