Not allow Ameer Abdullah to get in the open field: A
Michigan State did as well as it could have hoped against Abdullah. He had just 45 yards on 24 carries after entering with 166 yards per game to his name. The Spartans swarmed him from the start and never allowed him to get going with a long run of just nine yards. It was an outstanding job by Michigan State to game plan to stop the elite running back.
Always have eyes on Randy Gregory: A
Again, the Spartans did a great job in this category that was very important to getting a win. Gregory did not record a sack or even a quarterback hurry Saturday for the Huskers. He had an interception to open the game off a deflected pass and made some good open-field tackles on Jeremy Langford, but did not impact the game heavily in the pass rush element, which was the goal for Michigan State.
Win the turnover battle again: C
Michigan State was even in the turnover battle, having three as did Nebraska, but it was a season-high in turnovers. Realistically, the turnovers kept Nebraska in the game and allowed them to be a position to make a fourth-quarter comeback that should never have been an option. The worst was MacGarrett Kings’ muffed punt, which he probably did not even need to catch deep in MSU territory.
Iron out the kinks: B
Michigan State played very, very well defensively. There is no way of overstating that. Until the fourth quarter, it was a dominant effort from the Spartans’ defense. Still, Nebraska managed to get enough going through the air to start coming back late as Jordan Westerkamp was a constant target for Tommy Armstrong. The pass defense still needs some shoring up, but this was a big step in the right direction.
Start strong: B-
It was not the strongest start offensively for Michigan State, which had been rolling early in previous games. The Spartans scored just one in the first quarter, but did have a 17-0 halftime lead. The defense started well and kept it going.
Michigan State had big plays that accounted for its three touchdowns, but apart from that it was not moving the ball with great success, consistency or regularity. Connor Cook made some NFL-caliber throws, but some high school throws, as well. It was an up-and-down day all in all for the Spartans offense, which came in averaging 50 points per game.
Michigan State had a game plan. It executed it. Stop Ameer Abdullah. Some mistakes, including a pair of pass interference penalties, were problematic and allowed Nebraska to sneak back into the game. It was hard not to be impressed with how the Spartans played Saturday, though, as it looked like the defenses from the past couple seasons.
Special Teams: B-
Similar to the offense, there was a lot of good and a bunch of bad. Mike Sadler had a pair of punts downed inside the 2-yard line. Macgarrett Kings had a nice punt return of 19 yards to give MSU good field position. On the other hand, the punt team allowed a return on a line drive punt from Sadler that made it a one-score game and Kings muffed a punt, giving Nebraska outstanding field position. Not to mention, Michael Geiger missed a field goal that could have sealed the game.