MSU's 3 keys to success vs. Alabama

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Run the ball

This is easier said than done, especially since Michigan State averages 4.3 yards a carry (not counting sacks), a mark that ranks 111th in the nation out of 128 teams. It also doesn't help that Alabama is the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation, giving up 74 yards a game and just 3.5 per carry. But the Michigan State offensive line is healthy and has started to gel over the last few weeks as the Spartans ran for 203 yards in the win over Ohio State and gained 191 against Iowa in the Big Ten title game. Staying balanced will be vital against the Crimson Tide and their dominating front seven that also has 46 sacks this season.

Not get run over

As important as it will be for Michigan State to run the ball on offense, it will be just as crucial to contain the running attack of Alabama. Again, it's another good theory that is a bit tougher in practice. Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy while gaining an SEC-record 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns behind a physical offensive line, led by Rimmington Trophy winner Ryan Allen. But Michigan State ranks seventh in the nation in run defense and it relishes the chance to play a physical back like Henry. It all goes back to making a team one-dimensional, and if the Spartans can force the Crimson Tide to try and win the game through the air, they'll be at a significant advantage.

Avoid the big play

It's been the Achilles heel for much of the season for the Spartans – allowing big plays in the secondary. The defensive backfield has been much better over the last few weeks, but the big play nearly came back to bite in the Big Ten title game when Tevaun Smith got behind Darian Hicks for an 85-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave the Hawkeyes the lead. The same type of plays hurt early in the season and in big games last year against Ohio State and Baylor. Alabama quarterback Jake Coker isn't known to beat teams with the deep ball, but the Tide will be sure to take their shots in this matchup. If the Spartans can keep everything in front of them, they'll be in good shape.