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Can Spartans stop Huskers run game?

10/2/2014

Eric Francis/Getty Images

Ameer Abdullah ran for 123 of Nebraska's 182 yards vs Michigan State last season.At 5-0, Nebraska enters its matchup against Michigan State as the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten. Led by Heisman candidate Ameer Abdullah, the Cornhuskers have been fueled by a potent rushing attack, while the Spartans have made their mark by stopping the run.

Something has to give on Saturday when these two teams square off in East Lansing (8 ET on ABC).

A matchup of strengths

Nebraska ranks in the top three in the FBS in rushing yards per game, yards per rush and rushes of 10 yards or longer.

The Cornhuskers are averaging a Power Five-high 4.4 yards before contact per rush and have made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before first contact on 32 percent of their runs (best in the Big Ten).

Something Has To Give

Against Illinois last week, Nebraska had five rushing touchdowns, one more than Michigan State has allowed all season.

The Spartans rank in the top five in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game and yards per rush.

They have allowed 92 TOTAL rushing yards before contact, fourth best among Power Five schools. Nebraska has rushed for 1,136 yards before contact in five games this season, most among Power Five schools.

Ameer Abdullah leads the way

Last week against Illinois, Abdullah ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

That was his FBS-leading third game with 200 rushing yards and 18th straight game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage. No active running back has a streak of more than 10 such games.

Ameer Abdullah Rushing - This Season

Abdullah has been able to get his yards in chunks, gaining at least 10 yards on 25 percent of his carries. He leads the nation with 29 rushes of 10-plus yards.

Abdullah has gained 546 of his FBS-leading 833 yards before contact. He has 39 rushes in which first contact was not made until five yards past the line of scrimmage, the most by any Power Five player.

What does Michigan State do well?

Despite losing six defensive starters from last season, Michigan State is allowing eight fewer rushing yards per game than it did last season, when it ranked second in the FBS in rushing defense.

Like last year’s squad, the Spartans have not allowed their opponents to get going. They have contacted opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage on 63 of their 111 rushes (57 percent), the highest percentage for any Power Five defense.

They lead the nation in percentage of opponents’ rushes that do not gain yards (39 percent).

The Spartans also have been great at wrapping up opponents. They have only nine missed tackles on opponents’ rushes (tied for second in the Big Ten) and lead the conference with 55.3 rushing yards allowed after contact per game this season.

Looking toward Saturday

Last season, Michigan State beat Nebraska 41-28 in Lincoln. It was the Spartans’ first win against the Cornhuskers in eight tries.

However, the 182 rushing yards allowed were the second-most Michigan State has surrendered over the last two seasons, with 123 coming from Abdullah. The Spartans were helped by five Nebraska turnovers and an inefficient Nebraska passing game.

This year, if Michigan State allows Abdullah to again rush for that many yards the results may be different. In the last four years, Nebraska is 18-3 when Abdullah runs for at least 100 yards, and Michigan State is 6-5 during that time when allowing a player to rush for 100.