Nebraska senior tailback Ameer Abdullah leads the nation in rushing yards, and he's the key to the Huskers' upset hopes in Saturday's Big Ten showdown at Michigan State.
Abdullah (5-foot-9, 200 pounds) has rushed for 833 yards and eight touchdowns, and has had three 200-yard games already; the NCAA single-season record is eight, by USC's Marcus Allen in 1981. Abdullah is the major reason Nebraska leads the Big Ten and is third in the nation in rushing offense at 354.8 yards per game.
NFL scouts have taken notice of his incredible production. In their weekly "Sources Tell Us" post, NFL Media analysts wrote that, "Abdullah, despite his tremendous play, is widely considered the third-best rusher in college football. There's no shame in that for him, though. He's carrying the Huskers right now and is among the backs with the potential to snap the streak of drafts without a first-round running back at two."
Earlier this week, NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks wrote that "Abdullah's consistent production and outstanding skills are quickly making him one of the fastest risers in the 2015 draft class."
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said during his weekly Monday news conference that Abdullah is "better in every area" than he was last season.
"I think he had a great year last year, but I think he's a better football player this year," Pelini said. "That's a testament to him and his hard work, his mindset and preparation, his drive. He's just playing at a very high level right now."
While Michigan State's defense has been among the nation's best the past three seasons, Abdullah and the Huskers have had success on the ground against the Spartans. In its past two games against Michigan State, Nebraska has rushed for a combined 495 yards (247.5 yards per game). Abdullah has rushed for 233 yards against the Spartans in the past two meetings.
Michigan State knows that job No. 1 defensively is slowing Abdullah.
"When you're playing a great running back, it's about pursuit, it's about leverage, it's about the ability to tackle in space," Dantonio said during a Sunday teleconference.
Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun certainly is impressed by Abdullah, who is from Birmingham, Ala.
"It's his downhill running ability," Calhoun told reporters this week. "He takes a different approach to it. As soon as the ball is in his hands, he does a great job of getting north and south. The biggest thing is making sure he goes east and west -- don't allow him to get through a gap and make you miss.
"... He does a great job of correcting their offensive line's mistakes. Even if they are out of place and we are in great position, he does a great job of finding the hole. We have to be very gap sound because that's the biggest thing about containing Abdullah."