After winning their last two games against Northwestern and Michigan, Nebraska will try to make it three in a row today against No. 16 Michigan State. The Spartans come into Lincoln 8-1, but they've never beaten Nebraska in seven tries.
However, with so many injuries on the offense, how will the Huskers be able to match-up with the Spartans defense, which ranks No. 1 overall in the country? Here are today's keys to victory for Nebraska, along with our HOL staff and expert predictions for Saturday. The Huskers enter today's game a 6 ½ point underdog.
Abdullah needs to set the tone
Junior Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah currently leads the Big Ten in rushing yards, and he's arguably the Big Ten offensive player of the year through 11 weeks of football.
If the Huskers want to beat Michigan State, they are going to need Abdullah to establish a ground game and go for around 100 yards today. This will not be an easy task though, as Michigan State is only giving up 43.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 1 in the nation. The biggest thing will be Abdullah has to take runs that typically will go for no gain for 2 yards and 2 yard runs and make them 4 yard runs.
Force Cook into passing situations
In a way, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is a version of Trent Dilfer when he quarterbacked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Baltimore Ravens to Super Bowls. His job will be to not mess things up, and make plays when they are there.
It will be important for Nebraska to put Cook in high pressure situations and force him into throwing downs. If MSU's ground game gets established early, Cook won't have a lot of pressure to have to make big throws down the field.
The kicking game
Temperatures are expected to be in the 60's on Saturday, which means there will probably be some strong winds out of the south or the southwest.
With that said the kicking game could be tricky with such tough wind conditions. Michigan State has one of the best punters in the nation in Mike Sadler and the Spartans have made 13-of-16 field goals.
The Huskers will need Sam Foltz and Pat Smith to match the Spartans in the kicking game and not let them get any short fields off shanked punts or missed field goals. The wind conditions could play a big factor today.
The 50-50 balls
Nebraska's wide receivers will be put in a lot of one-on-one situations with Michigan State's corners. When the Spartans blitz quarterback Tommy Armstrong is going to have to make some quick decisions and get rid of the ball in a hurry.
When NU is put in these situations the receivers are going to have to come down with catches in what I call 50-50 situations. With all the injuries at receiver, along with on the offensive line this is an area of the game that's hard to call right now.
Make an early defensive play
The last seven quarters Nebraska has played nearly flawless football on defense. If they are going to win today, they're going to need their defense to show up in a big way.
Two years ago against Michigan State the Huskers came up with a big interception on MSU's opening drive of the game. They are going to need a play or two like that today to get the crowd going and give their offense some momentum.
Callahan's weekly predictions
Early on in the week I picked Nebraska on Spartan Nation Radio with Hondo Carpenter to win this game, but as we learned more about the injury situation of NU's offensive line, along with their banged up receivers I just don't see the Husker offense putting up enough points and yards to beat the nation's No. 1 ranked defense. However, if the Husker defense shows up and produces a few turnovers, the Big Red could easily win this game.
Michigan State 17 Nebraska 10
Northwestern 27 Michigan 23
Georgia 37 Auburn 30
Texas 31 Oklahoma State 27
UCLA 41 Washington 37
Stanford 23 USC 13
Season Record: 38-16 overall; 30-24 vs. points