Michigan State vs. Nebraska: What Each Team Must Do to Win on Saturday

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2013

Nov 2, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (18) celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Spartans beat the Wolverines 29-6. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The fate of the Big Ten Legends division is at stake when Nebraska and Michigan State face off on Saturday.

The Spartans sit atop the division with a 5-0 conference record, while the Cornhuskers are a game back at 4-1. Getting the lead with just two games left in the regular season would be huge for both teams.

Nebraska and Michigan State both have winnable games to finish out the year, so whoever gets the victory here will likely be making the trip to Indianapolis.

With so much on the line, here are two of the bigger keys for each team.


Michigan State Spartans

Make Tommy Armstrong Jr. Win the Game

Oct 5, 2013; Lincoln, NE, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini Jonathon Brown (45) tackles Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska won 39-19. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sport
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Armstrong Jr. has done admirably well since replacing Taylor Martinez. He hasn't lost a game, and last week against Michigan, he led the late drive that ended up winning the game.

The question is whether Armstrong is good enough to single-handedly push the Cornhuskers through against a good team like the Spartans. Without the benefit of a consistent running game, can Armstrong be counted upon to carry the majority of the offensive burden?

It's easy to forget his three-interception performances against Purdue and Northwestern, and that he's only completing 55.3 percent of his passes.

Michigan State needs to put the impetus on Armstrong. Take away the running game and see if he can take over.


Fight Fire with Fire

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 02: Jeremy Langford #33 of the Michigan State Spartans battles for extra yards during a third quarter run while playing the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium on November 2, 2013 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State wo
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

You don't get bonus points for winning with style.

While it wouldn't make for an enjoyable game, Michigan State shouldn't be afraid to go out and rely on defense and running the football. It's the team's bread and butter.

Hand the ball off to Jeremy Langford and break the Cornhuskers' spirit over the course of the game. And then bludgeon the Nebraska offense into submission with smashmouth defense.

Don't try anything fancy. There's no sense in going outside what's gotten you to this point. From the Spartans' point of view, you have the edge in personnel. Just play your game and do it better than the other team.


Nebraska Cornhuskers

Establish the Running Game Early

Nov 9, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Ameer Abdullah (8) runs the ball in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, this will be difficult. The Spartans are only allowing 43.4 yards a game on the ground, best in the country, and 1.62 yards a rush.

Although it will be an uphill battle, Nebraska must work to get the running game productive early in the game. Use misdirections, counters, play-action passes and whatever else it takes to keep the Spartans defense guessing.

Ameer Abdullah is one of the best running backs in the country, but even he isn't good enough to run successfully against Michigan State if Nebraska just goes with simple runs up the middle or sweeps to the outside. The offensive line is also banged up, making things even more difficult.

Nebraska won't win this game if the running game isn't successful. It's the Cornhuskers' best means of attack, and it will help to take pressure off Armstrong.


Ride Your Luck

Oct 26, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers Bo Pelini looks on during pre game before a game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Cornhuskers are ceding the edge to MSU on just about every facet of the game. They will have a tough time, even if they play a great game. That's why it's important for Bo Pelini to take some risks and gamble at the right times.

If Nebraska has a few yards to go on fourth down inside Spartans territory, go for it. Or maybe try a fake punt at the opportune time. If he's feeling really lucky, perhaps a surprise onside kick.

Plays like these can help to swing the momentum and act as a bit of an equalizer between the two teams. When you're the underdog, sometimes you gotta take some risks.

And more importantly, you have to make the most of every opportunity to put a scoring drive together.