From the Spartan Sideline: Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Michigan State Spartans, Keys to the Game

After once again looking like the walking dead much of Saturday afternoon, the stunned everyone with a come from behind overtime win against the Wisconsin Badgers on the road. Perhaps, this win can spurn some positive momentum and get things heading in the right direction.

The next challenge in this tough Big Ten gauntlet comes from the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are 3-1 in the Legends Division after a thrashing of Michigan at home last week. Now, the Cornhuskers will try to build on that positive momentum and beat Michigan State for the second straight year. This time shouldn’t prove as easy, though, being the game is on the road. What are some things to watch on the first Saturday in November?

Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Unleash Le’Veon Bell.

In last season’s putrid loss on the road, Michigan State didn’t do much right offensively. Part of the problem was Nebraska did a great job containing Bell, who only rushed for 58 yards on the ground, one of his lowest outputs of last season. As a result, the Spartans never got comfortable throwing the ball, and had a awful afternoon only gaining 187 total yards. This year, that cannot be the case. Michigan State needs to establish Bell right away and get him churning out yardage against a tough defensive front. If is to have any success at all throwing the ball, the Spartans’ running game has to come through in a big way and force Nebraska to be honest defensively. If not, things will get ugly again, and the Cornhuskers will simply pin their ears back, rush Maxwell and take away the passing game completely.

Nebraska’s Key To Victory: Taylor Martinez efficiency.

The Cornhusker quarterback has been much maligned in the past as a playmaker, but seems to get the job done more often than not in big games and win. He was 14/24  for 166 yards, one touchdown and one interception against Michigan last weekend. Martinez also scrambled for 58 yards. On the road against a good Spartan defense, he’s going to have to orchestrate more big plays and be a difference maker. Without that, Nebraska’s offense might have a hard time scoring as well. The Cornhuskers need a much better passing effort out of Martinez and his receivers to win. When teams have beaten Michigan State this season, it’s usually been through the air with busted plays. Nebraska and Martinez must hit their fair share of these to survive a rough Big Ten road environment in November.

Michigan State And Nebraska Players To Watch: and Ameer Abdullah

Finally, Gholston had his dominating game Saturday against Wisconsin, collecting 4.5 tackles for loss and pestering Montee Ball, James White and both Badger quarterbacks all day long. Against Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah and Nebraska, Gholston’s going to need another excellent performance. Hopefully, he’s found his groove, and can turn this performance into a consistent finish this year.

Abdullah had a fantastic game against the Wolverines last Saturday, rushing for 101 yards and scoring a touchdown. He’s scored eight this season as a consistent performer on the ground, and is looking good early in his career. Last year, Michigan State had no answers for Nebraska’s running game, led by Rex Burkhead, who torched them for 130 yards and three total touchdowns. This year, Abdullah will have to try and do more of the same both running and receiving to keep things moving forward for his offense and Martinez. The Spartans will need to be careful with the young sophomore, and not let him get going.

Intangibles: Nebraska’s supposed knowledge of Michigan State’s game plan.

After last year’s big win, some Nebraska defenders boasted that they knew exactly what was coming from Michigan State offensively before the snap. Whether this meant they were stealing signals, had advanced knowledge of signals or was just supremely keyed into the game plan, something worked wonders. The Spartans had literally their ugliest loss of the year come at the hands of the “blackshirt” defense. This season, what will Michigan State do to adjust, ensuring this is not an issue? Will this prove to be as much of a problem as it may have been before? It’s certainly an interesting angle to watch on Saturday afternoon.

Prediction: After watching Michigan State storm back against Wisconsin on the road, you really want to believe they’ve turned a corner and can finish 2012 strong. During tough seasons, I always look for watershed moments which define what course teams will take. Had Michigan State lost 10-3 against the Badgers, things likely would have bottomed out the rest of the way. After they forced overtime and won with big plays, however, there should be a noticeable edge that returns to the Spartans at home. The crowd will be more excited, and Nebraska’s offense can’t score enough to win in Spartan Stadium against one of the Big Ten’s best defensive units. Maxwell, Bell and company put together enough plays again and eek out a close home win for their second upset in a row.

Michigan State 20, Nebraska 14

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