Five Questions: Nebraska

Big Red Report's Josh Harvey breaks down Nebraska as MSU heads to Lincoln on Saturday.

Mike Wilson: Obviously, you have to start off with the quarterback situation. Taylor Martinez has been Michigan State's Achilles heel the past couple seasons with his running ability. What does Tommy Armstrong bring to the table that could give the MSU defense trouble?

Josh Harvey: It's pretty hard to guage Armstrong to this point. He's 5-0 as a starter, but hasn't necessarily done enough to scare too many defensive coordinators in the Big Ten, although the talent is there to do so down the road. He's a better option quarterback than Martinez and probably a better passer, but doesn't have the play-making 20+ yard runs in him like Martinez possess. Armstrong's biggest thing going for him is his presence in the huddle. Coach Pelini says he's just got that "it" factor. We saw it against Michigan. It's hard for any guy to have a game-winning drive in "The Big House," let alone a freshman. His accomplishments last week will likely only bring confidence going forward.

Wilson: Nebraska's defense has turned it up of late - especially with getting to the quarterback and having 11 sacks in two games. Not to mention cutting down on total defense after a tough start to the season. What has been the difference recently?

Harvey: The biggest difference has been guys just executing the defense and doing their assigments. This is a very young squad, the front seven really only has one or two part-time starters back from a year ago. They also replaced both safeties. It took some time, probably more than the coaching staff wanted to see, for this team to come together on that side of the football. When just one guy is not doing his assignment, there can be a breakdown. At times earlier in the season, it was like Nebraska was playing with nine guys knowing what they were supposed to be doing and two more running around. They got exposed. Since then, they have found the right combinations and over the last six quarters have played lights out.

Wilson: Michigan State fans are no strangers to offensive line injuries (prior to this season at least) and Nebraska is going through that right now. Will the line the Huskers have left be able to protect Armstrong and create running room for Ameer Abdullah against a stout run defense?

Harvey: It's the biggest question coming into the game. Every week the line has gotten thinner. It started when they lost potential All-American guard Spencer Long a couple games ago for the season. Then the Huskers' opposite starting guard Jake Cotton sprained his MCL, he's questionable this week after being limited in practice and missing the Huskers last two games. Against Michigan, starting tackle Jeremiah Sirles went down with the same injury as Cotton, it's likely he won't be back until at least Iowa. To make matters worse, Long's replacement Mike Moudy got hurt in practice this week, he's doubtful for Saturday's contest with a shoulder injury.

Coming into the season all we heard about on offense was how much depth they had up front. Not only did the starters have a ton of experience, but guys that were two or three years into the program were pushing for time. The time has come for Nebraska fans to see that potential waiting in the wings. Michigan State is probably the last team Bo Pelini wants to see on his schedule at this point with the injuries to the front five.

Wilson: Speaking of Abdullah, it seems like he might be playing better than last season when he had a pretty good showing in East Lansing. How important is finding a way to get him going in this one?

Harvey: You are right, he is better than a year ago. He's stronger, looks to be quicker, but still has a problem holding on to the football every once in a while. It's very important for Nebraska to get him going, not only to protect your redshirt freshman quarterback by limiting his throws, but to also give the defense a rest on the sidelines. Abdullah has rushed for 100 yards in every game this season besides UCLA, when he racked up 98 of them. If he can rush for more than 100 yards against Michigan State and the Huskers find a way to win, he will be a top candidiate for the Doak Walker award – he's that good.

Wilson: What are the keys for Nebraska to win this game and what do you expect the outcome to be?

Harvey: My keys are pretty straight-forward. On defense, they have to put Connor Cook in long passing situations and keep changing up the blitz packages like they have the past few weeks. He's not pressured very often, so if Nebraska can get to him, it's very possible the youngster might get a little rattled.

On offense the front five, whatever the roatation, has to buy Armstrong time on third down. Abdullah's going to be seeing some walls Saturday, Sparty's run defense is just too good. Which means Armstrong is going to have throw. He also is going to need his best game of his career at this point.

I did a radio interview earlier in the day with Dave Berk, where I said I thought the Huskers lose a close one. I'm starting to waffle from that prediction. I have said for weeks that if Nebraska beat Michigan on the road, they would have enough momentum to beat Michigan State at home. I think the crowd comes up big as a 12th man on defense and the offense does just enough against one of the nation's best defenses. Nebraska wins 20-17 at home.

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