Nebraska vs. Michigan State: Keys to the Game and Prediction

Matt SheehanAnalyst IOctober 27, 2011

Nebraska vs. Michigan State: Keys to the Game and Prediction

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    Howdy Spartan fans, have you come back down to earth after last week's win? Well, if you haven't, you're going to have to pretty soon, because the green and white are on their way to Nebraska to face the Big Ten's newest adopted family member.

    The Cornhuskers came into this season with high expectations and so far they are just about living up to them. They have one loss, against Big Ten foe Wisconsin, but that won't mean anything when the Big Red and the Green Machine face off to gain prominence in the Legends division (when can we get rid of that name?).

    The winner of this game undoubtedly moves into the driver's seat and has the best shot of heading to the inaugural Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, but just how can either team win? There is no question that this game will be a grind on both sides of the ball, but if either of these teams follow these three keys we could be seeing an instant classic.

Nebraska Key No. 1

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    Run the ball to the hills

    If halfback Rex Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez rush the ball less than 45 times combined on Saturday, I will think Bo Pelini is throwing the game.

    Unless their coaching staff is Amish they would have saw the way Wisconsin ran through Michigan State like a Black Friday shopper tearing through Best Buy last weekend. Running back Montee Ball ran for 115 yards while averaging 6.8 yards a carry–and he nearly missed an entire quarter. If it wasn't for Wisconsin's stellar ground attack, the game would not have ended on a Hail Mary, it would have ended a couple drives before that.

    Granted, Wisconsin's offensive line is so big and strong they could stall an elevator. Nebraska can still throw their nation's seventh best run game at the Spartans. Will it be as potent as Wisconsin's? Maybe not–because of how much of a role the o-line played for Wisconsin–but it will definitely give the Spartans a hard time.

Nebraska Key No. 2

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    Play hot potato and throw some short routes

    What I mean by hot potato is that Taylor Martinez should not hold onto the ball for more than two seconds before he passes. Slants, screens, and every short route in between could be Nebraska's key to success for a couple of reasons:

    1) Michigan State is tied for the fifth most sacks in the nation with 24, so if Martinez holds on to the ball for a while it could be a ticking bomb he is holding on to before he gets annihilated.

    2) Wisconsin moved the ball short gains at a time, and occasionally hitting that 15-20 yard target downfield. Why did they do that? Because short yardages set up long balls perfectly and MSU showed a weakness against the short routes.

    3) Lets face it, Taylor Martinez is no Tom Brady when it comes to throwing. As a matter of fact, he's hardly Tom Brady in high school caliber, so giving him easy routes will make life simple for the men in red.

Nebraska Key No. 3

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    Keep your crowd loud

    Michigan State has been safe and sound beating their opponents at home, and they haven't been to opposing ground in three weeks.

    Nebraska, time to give them hell.

    It will be a big change for the Spartans to have a deafening crowd root against them for once, and this could very well be the loudest venue they play in all year. The Horseshoe would have put up good competition, but the sluggish game caused the crowd to sound like a golf gallery watching Tiger Woods hit a tee shot.

    Disrupting communication, intimidating the green and white, and giving the Huskers a positive crowd to work with should give Big Red fans every reason to go bananas this Saturday.

Michigan State Key No. 1

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    Blitz like it's the last game to do so

    Michigan States goal should be to have Nebraska's play-calling staff in tears by the end of the game. How can they do this? Simple, give them no opportunity to answer "why on earth can't we move the ball?"

    MSU can virtually bring Nebraska's offense to a standstill by sending pressure to the offensive line. Odds are that monstrous defensive tackle Jerel Worthy will be double-teamed and, now that Gholston is back, the offensive line will already have their hands full. Bringing a linebacker or a safety to the "kill the guy with the ball" party will have the line searching for answers on how to stop the attack.

    The pressure will stop the run in most cases, force Martinez to make stupid decisions, and have Gholston win the trash talk battle. All three of those are vital to Michigan State's success, just trust me on that last one.

Michigan State Key No. 2

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    Put Dion Sims on a first name basis with the football

    I would not be surprised if Keyshawn Martin and BJ Cunningham get some extra attention from the secondary, so who can Cousins dump it off to?

    Ding ding ding! You got it, Mr. Dion Sims.

    Standing at a towering 6' 5" 265 pounds, Sims is a very easy target to hit. What makes it even easier is the fact that the former basketball standout can jump up to grab a jump ball if need be. If you need him to power through a defender to get some vital yards after the catch, well he can do that quite well too.

    In a nutshell, Sims is a player that can catch like a wideout, jump like a power forward, and run like an SUV. It baffles me that he only has 12 catches on the year, but then again maybe Nebraska won't notice his true talent and give him opportunity to reek havoc.

Michigan State Key No. 3

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    Forget about the last three games

    These last three games for Michigan State have been huge for the program but those don't matter on Saturday.

    The emotional high that the team was on after the Wisconsin game better have passed in 24 hours like Dantonio said it would, or we could be seeing an unfocused Spartan team. If the Spartans can go out with everyone's head clear of the 'Rocket' play or anything other than Nebraska we will be watching some prime Big Ten football.

Prediction

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    Nebraska- 24

    Michigan State- 28

    Spartan fans, hire a travel agent and buy your Big Ten Championship tickets, because MSU will be meeting up with Wisconsin in December to be playing for the Rose Bowl bid. Will it be pretty? No, but it will be enough to get the job done.

    Highlights for Nebraska

    – Rex Burkhead has another 100+ rushing yard game

    – Nebraska's secondary gets two picks and one defensive touchdown

    – William Gholston doesn't try to break Martinez's neck

     

    Highlights for Michigan State

    – Jerel Worthy plays so good he actually scares small children in the stands

    – Baker, Caper, and Bell all have marvelous games

    – #winning

     

    Lowlights for Nebraska

    – They reinforce why they are the 107th best passing offense in the nation

    – Questions start to loom if Martinez should be starting quarterback or not

    – Bo Pellini looks sadder than he normally does

     

    Lowlights for Michigan State

    – Cousins doesn't have the world's greatest game

    – Penalties will be a minor issue

    – Ending isn't as awesome as catching a ball with no time remaining and fighting to get the ball over the goal line past three opposing players.