73F Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- No. 9 Nebraska played its best game of the season against Michigan State. Coach Bo Pelini says the challenge is to do it again this week against Northwestern.
The Cornhuskers (7-1, 3-1) took control of the Big Ten's Legends Division with their 24-3 win over the Spartans. Northwestern (3-5, 1-4) is in last place in the division.
"This week is going to be a tremendous challenge for us to come back emotionally," Pelini said Monday. "There was a lot of hype surrounding that game. The thing you have to fight is wanting to pat yourself on the back or say let's take a deep breath here. No, it's time to put the foot on the gas pedal and keep going."
Nebraska is in a three-way tie with Michigan State and Michigan in the Legends. The Huskers own the tiebreaker against the Spartans and play at Michigan on Nov. 19. The Michigan game comes after a visit to Penn State, which leads the Leaders division, and before a regular season-ending home game with Iowa.
Receiver Kenny Bell said he and his teammates aren't going to let down after notching their biggest win of the season.
"We have the same mind set as our coaches: 'Cool, that was a great win. That's in the past now,' "Bell said. "We're going to come out and prepare for Northwestern the same way we prepared for Michigan State. Yeah, we're in control. But we still have a lot of big games. There isn't going to be any overlooking anybody. The plan is to win out."
Nebraska held Michigan State to 187 yards, and Spartans senior quarterback Kirk Cousins had the worst game of his career.
The performance elevated Nebraska's defense to 29th nationally, at 335 yards a game, and earned the defensive starters their black practice jerseys Monday. The awarding of "Blackshirts" has been a hallowed tradition at Nebraska since 1964.
Until Pelini became head coach in 2008, Blackshirts were passed out before the season opener. He said he wondered why that was the case when he was Nebraska's defensive coordinator under Frank Solich in 2003.
"I said the Blackshirt should be something that has to be earned," he said he told Solich. "It's not some symbol you're just granted."
Northwestern lost five in a row before beating Indiana 59-38 last Saturday. Of the Wildcats' five losses, only one was by more than 10 points. The Huskers are 17-point favorites.
Dan Persa, who missed the first three games because of lingering problems from the Achilles tendon he ruptured last November, has completed 76 percent of his passes for 1,251 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Wildcats are scoring 32 points a game and giving up 32. They're allowing an average of 432 yards to rank 98th.
Pelini said he knows his players are feeling a lot of love from fans after they took strong criticism for a 48-17 loss at Wisconsin a month ago.
Pelini said if his players follow the scores in the Big Ten, they should be wary every game. Pelini said they can point to Wisconsin's back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Ohio State and Iowa's surprising loss at Minnesota.
"We have to be ready to play our best football because we will be challenged," Pelini said. "You see that across the board in the Big Ten."