Passing to set up the run?
That's something a few teams, especially the Nebraska Cornhuskers, focus on doing heading into a big game. Oddly enough, that is exactly what will have to happen in order to give Nebraska a chance to leave East Lansing with a win on Saturday.
Nebraska's rushing game is their strength. However, stopping the run is the strength of the Michigan State Spartan defense. They rank seventh in the nation at doing so, giving up only 91.22 yards per game.
Like last year, the Huskers will want to get things going on the ground in order to control the tempo and momentum. They may find that task a bit more daunting this year than in 2011, when Nebraska rolled up 190 rushing yards on the Spartans on their way to a 24-3 win.
In order for the Husker backs like Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross to have space to operate, Taylor Martinez will have to prove he can hurt the Spartans down the field in the passing game. Michigan State has solid corners, good enough to cancel out the normal advantage Nebraska's receivers have over opposing secondaries.
This puts pressure on tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton to get open and make plays in the middle of the field early on.
So far this season, Reed and Cotton have combined for 25 receptions for 298 yards and four touchdowns. They'll need to be more consistently productive on Saturday in order to take a couple of linebackers out of the box and open up the running lanes. This becomes even more pertinent in zone blocking schemes.
If Nebraska's tight ends can establish themselves as any type of threat early on, the run game should take shape as it did last year, allowing the Huskers to hold the ball and punch in what could be a few deciding scores opposite a Michigan State offense that struggles mightily to put points on the board.
Failure to set up the run with a formidable passing game will render Nebraska one dimensional, forcing them to press and increasing the chance of turning the ball over—something they do often. The Huskers can't afford to give a bad offense extra chances to put points on the board in what will likely be a low-scoring contest.