Michigan State ranks No. 1 in the country in rushing defense, holding opponents on average to 42.44 yards per game.
Nebraska junior running back Ameer Abdullah ranks No. 6 in the country and No. 1 in the Big Ten this season in rushing yards, averaging 134.78 yards per game.
On Saturday, when Nebraska faces off against Michigan State at Memorial Stadium, something has to give.
The Spartan defense is also No. 1 in total defense and No. 3 in passing and scoring defense in the nation this year. Coach Bo Pelini attributes Michigan State’s defensive success to the experience the starters bring.
Pelini said he remembers some of the same defenders Nebraska will face this weekend from two years ago, when Nebraska took down Michigan State 24-3 in Lincoln.
“A lot of these kids are three- and four-year starters,” Pelini said. “That bodes well for you. I think they play to their strengths on defense. They are committed to running the football. They are committed to stopping the run. And they execute well. They are just a well-coached, sound football team. That leads to good things for your football team. They play the right way.”
That all comes from a coaching staff, Pelini said, that he has a lot of respect for.
“(Michigan State defensive coordinator) Pat Narduzzi does a really good job,” Pelini said. “They are well-coached on defense. They communicate well. They’ve been in the system for a long time, so they are pretty advanced. They understand their system and not only what people are trying to do to them.”
Still, the Spartan’s defense has yet to face a running back as productive as Abdullah so far this season.
“I can say that he’s everything you want on the field, and he’s everything you want off the field,” Pelini said about his running back. “He brings it every day. He has a burning desire inside of him to compete. And he’s about the right things. You are not going to be around a guy that is as unselfish as he is.”
Abdullah, who has recorded eight touchdowns on the year for Nebraska, said he’s excited for the contest this weekend, which will decide who is in the driver’s seat in the Legends’ division title.
“Every time we play Michigan State, it’s a fist-fight,” Abdullah said. “Those guys are tough. They are a great defensive bunch. They are very sound and talented. We’ve gotten the best of them the last two years. We need to watch film, find their weaknesses and try to exploit it.”
Nebraska has had plenty of injuries on the offensive line in front of Abdullah, which most recently lost junior offensive lineman Mike Moudy from a shoulder injury this week. He doubtful for Saturday’s game, Pelini said.
Senior offensive lineman Brent Qvale said he’s not worried how the offensive line will perform this weekend, as he’s confident in any player who steps in.
“We’ll get a group of five out there who we feel can get the job done, and I think we’ll be just fine,” he said. “That’s what you have to practice throughout the week with the group of guys you have. That way they can get ready to go and just trust that everyone is doing their own preparation in order to go out there and perform at their best.”
Saturday’s contest will be the eighth in the series between Nebraska and Michigan State. Nebraska has won each of the previous seven games between the two teams.