To me, East Lansing is an incredibly difficult place to play and Nebraska's performances on the road have not been particularly sharp.
Here are my keys to the game for a Nebraska victory:
1. Limit the mistakes - Simply put, Nebraska will not have the ability to come back from double-digit deficits on Saturday against Michigan State; the Spartan defense is just too good. Nebraska has been their own worst enemy on the road. In conference, against just Ohio State and Northwestern, Nebraska has fumbled the ball five times, lost four and thrown interceptions. That accounts for 24% of all fumbles, 29% of all fumbles lost and 50% of all interceptions thrown. And that's just putting a finger on turnovers. That doesn't touch penalties, poor tackling and breakdowns on special teams. The Huskers can not afford to get behind and think that they can get the ball back twice in the 4th quarter to come from behind and win.
2. Get pressure - One thing that seems to take away a home field advantage about as much as anything is pressure on the quarterback and hitting the quarterback. It ruins rhythm. It ruins timing. Offensive coordinators have to make adjustments to what they want to do, maybe didn't necessarily focus on this week in practice, and get them outside the comfort of their preparation. I believe that Nebraska has an advantage off of the edge with Eric Martin pinning his ears back and getting after the quarterback. The key will be knowing when to call on the blitz, knowing that you need to focus on Michigan State's dedication to running the football with Le'Veon Bell, as well as knowing when you have dialed it up all you can and to expect the screen pass or shorter pass.
3. Take your shots - I have seen Michigan State a couple of times this year. I didn't focus on too many things, but I believe that Nebraska's biggest advantage is with their skill position players against their secondary. I think that Nebraska can get over the top of the coverage with a few different players and that will open things up underneath. Nebraska will feel the heat too. I expect Michigan State to blitz Taylor Martinez even more than I believe Nebraska will try to come after Andrew Maxwell. Nebraska can not become predictable when it comes to down and distance, personnel, formations and field position.
All of that is easier said that done, I know. I have been saying all long, since before the season, that Michigan State scared me. People doubted me. All of the people that they had to replace including Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham, but it wasn't about the personnel or their replacements.
It was about the lack of success that other teams have had in East Lansing. Ask Notre Dame. Ask Michigan. Ask Wisconsin. The Spartans are incredibly difficult to beat at home. Even when they do lose it's never by much. They are in it all the way until the end giving them a shot at a win late in the game.
Nebraska will not be able to pull a "Northwestern" this week against Michigan State. Go to sleep, wake up 12 down with a quarter to go in East Lansing and it's over. The quick strike offense for Nebraska is effective. But so is the Michigan State defense.
This game is important for Nebraska. Win, and you are likely representing the Legends Division in the Big Ten Championship Game. Lose, and maybe you still get there, but you still have the doubts about your play on the road. Get it right this week and set the path for the rest of the season.
And that's exactly what I think the Huskers do. I don't expect big offensive numbers from Martinez on Saturday. I think that players like Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard, Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner and Kyler Reed will all get their opportunities to make plays. Give me the Huskers, 27-21.