Not allow Ameer Abdullah to get in the open field
Nebraska has a bona fide Heisman candidate in their running back Abdullah, or so it seems. This Saturday will tell whether he is in the mix or was just a September Heisman candidate. I think he is the former and is a problem for the Spartans, which he has been in previous seasons. Abdullah is as good a running back as there is in the nation with speed, vision and toughness. He will be playing on Sundays next year, so Nebraska will be using him plenty. The Spartans allowed three long scores to the Huskers last year. None were by Abdullah, but he was the cause of plenty of yardage and was the first 100-yard rusher against MSU last year. Stop him, you win.
Always have eyes on Randy Gregory
Michigan State fans know Shilique Calhoun. Well, Nebraska has its version of Calhoun in Gregory, who, like Abdullah, is among the best at his position in the nation. He has 14 sacks in the span of last year and the start of this year and will look to wreak havoc against the Spartans. The Huskers have been using Gregory to line up standing up and force tight ends to block him and to keep him away from an opponent’s best tackle. Just like containing Abdullah is key on the defensive side, containing Gregory is key on the offensive side.
Win the turnover battle again
Michigan State won in Nebraska last year thanks in part to five turnovers from the Huskers, which gave the Spartans good field position consistently. It led to points and was a key in the game. So far this season, Michigan State has been winning the turnover battle with a plus-nine mark, which is plus-11 in wins. Forcing Nebraska to make mistakes and limit Ameer Abdullah’s opportunities will be key.
Iron out the kinks
Michigan State’s defense is not broken, Mark Dantonio said this week. He could not deny, however, there are little things to be fixed. Namely, stopping big plays, tackling better and communicating more effectively needs to be accomplished. This is the first true test for the Spartans since Oregon, where those issues were exposed. Eastern Michigan and Wyoming had opportunities, but did not always execute. A team like Nebraska is going to hit big plays when the opportunity is handed to them. How well Michigan State has ironed out the kinks before this game is going to matter and matter a lot.
Michigan State scored on its first six possessions last week, which accounted for all of the first half possessions apart from a kneel down at the end of the second quarter. It was a similar story against Jacksonville State and Eastern Michigan, which provided so many valuable snaps for backups. While this game will not feature playing time for Tommy Vento – barring something crazy – it will be important for Michigan State to get ahead and allow the defense to play loose and fast from the get go.
FIVE KEY PLAYERS
The weather figures to be on the unpleasant side Saturday night, which makes it harder to have a strong aerial attack. Michigan State got the ground game going the past two weeks with more than 330 yards rushing in each game. Langford broke out for his first 100-yard game of the year last week with 137 yards on 16 carries. A strong game from him will be necessary.
As mentioned above, the Huskers will look to make Gregory a matchup with a team’s No. 2 tackle as well as tight ends. This will be the biggest test for Kieler thus far in his career – or Donavon Clark if he gets move snaps due to experience. The right tackles and tight ends need to effectively block Gregory to give Connor Cook the time to throw and make plays, which will be needed in what could be a high-scoring affair.
Heath and Lawrence Thomas will start up the middle and need to be strong against a healthy and improved Nebraska offensive line from a season ago. Wyoming had a big touchdown run right up the middle last week, as the Spartans lost at the point of attack and then missed tackles in the secondary. Heath and Thomas need to be winning consistently to force Tommy Armstrong’s hand, as well as making Abdullah move laterally instead of vertically.
Right or wrong, Williamson has been the player that is taking heat on Michigan State’s defense. It seems each time a big play, coverage bust or the like occurs, Williamson is around the play. He no doubt is looking to bounce back from a pair of missed tackles that led to long gains and one touchdown last week and this is a good opportunity to do it. It is too far to say his starting spot is in jeopardy, but a big game is just what the doctor order for Williamson as the Huskers surely will look to put pressure on him and Kurtis Drummond.
In an offense filled with weapons, Lyles has not had a lot of looks yet this year so few people are talking about him. Could this be a week he factors more into the game plan? Possibly. There is not much on film showing him in the offense, so it could be his time. Certainly a sleeper pick, Lyles is the kind of guy that brings mismatches and has been split out wide in five-wide sets. He could be primed to be a factor in the offense this Saturday.