Nebraska Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Michigan State
One week after seizing control of the Legends division with a crucial win over Michigan, Nebraska heads to East Lansing to take on preseason favorite Michigan State.
The Huskers need to keep the momentum going as they enter another tough test on the road. A win would keep the 6-2 Huskers in the driver's seat to Indy with three games left to play, but a loss would open the race back up for Michigan.
Let's take a look at what Nebraska needs to do to take care of business at Michigan State this Saturday.
1. Continue Special Teams Success
Michigan State’s lackluster offense and dominant defense has produced many low-scoring affairs. This means that points will likely be at a premium on Saturday. Brett Maher needs to continue the success he found against Michigan and help the Big Red cash in on every red-zone possession.
And in the return game, Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell need to keep their punt-muffing problems against Northwestern behind them and provide the ball security Nebraska frequently struggles to find on the road.
2. First Down Success
Since fall camps began, the Big Ten has been repeatedly warned of the dominant Michigan State defense. The best way the Big Red can break down this defense on Saturday will be to keep them guessing.
If Nebraska finds themselves in obvious passing downs, the Spartan defense will likely feast upon an offense that already struggles in 3rd-and-long situations. It will be imperative that the offensive line win the battle at the line of scrimmage and allow Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah to pick up yards on first down. This will allow the Husker attack to open up the playbook on second and third downs and keep the Spartans off balance.
3. Establish an Early Lead
Michigan State’s offense is not able to put up big numbers on the scoreboard. But with Le’Veon Bell in the backfield, you can count on them to grind it out and cling to a lead. If the Spartans gain an early advantage, expect them to be more than happy to continue feeding Bell and try to ride their defense to victory.
And playing against a staunch Spartan defense in a hostile environment could spell disaster for the Huskers if they trail into the second half. The longer the Huskers trail, the more likely Taylor Martinez will try to force the ball down the field and turn the ball over. Nebraska needs to get off to a quick start and force Andrew Maxwell to make plays to win the game.
4. Pass Blocking
The Husker offensive line showed up in a big way in the pass game against Michigan a week ago. Taylor Martinez was given time to look down field and find lanes to scramble.
The offensive line must come up big again in East Lansing. With a secondary as strong as Michigan State’s, any pressure on Martinez could force mistakes and lead to easy points for the Spartans. Martinez’s already serious ball security problems could be quickly magnified if William Gholston and others frequently find their way into the Nebraska backfield.
5. Corral Le’Veon Bell
Despite not being the Heisman hopeful many predicted, Bell is still the focal point of the Michigan State offense. Andrew Maxwell has played well since his early season debacle against Boise State. He has proven that he will not lose any games for Michigan State. But he likely will not win any either.
Keeping Bell under control will force Maxwell and his struggling corps of wide receivers to make plays and take risks. If that happens, advantage Nebraska.