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Michigan State Spartans running back LJ Scott (3) lunges through the pile for a first down in Michigan State's 16-13 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in  2015.

Louis Brems

Four things the football teams from Iowa and Michigan State can do to position themselves for victory in Saturday's 3 p.m. game at Spartan Stadium:

Michigan State (2-1, 0-0)

1. Establish the run

At its best, Michigan State football teams are physical machines built around a powerful running game.

The pieces are in place for that to happen against this season but much like Iowa the Spartans haven't had the production on the ground that they expected heading into the season.

Some of that is reflective of the youth on the Michigan State front line, where two sophomores and a redshirt freshman fill three of the front five.

The Spartans are fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, but that effort has been led by the feet of sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound California native averages 68.7 rushing yards per game and leads the Big Ten in total offense with an average of 319 yards.

He's accounted for more than 30 percent of the Spartans' rushing yards, a number coach Mark Dantonio would like to see come down a bit.

Michigan State has the backs to make that happen. Junior LJ Scott, senior Gerald Holmes and junior Madre London combine to average 125 yards per game on the ground while splitting time at the tailback position.

2. Hold onto the ball

Michigan State is last in the Big Ten in turnover margin. Only Nebraska with nine turnovers in four games has more than the eight the Spartans have collected in three.

Turnovers changed the complexion of last week's 38-18 loss to Notre Dame. The Irish converted three into touchdowns that left Michigan State in a 28-7 hole.

Compounding the problem for MSU is that the Michigan State defense has only forced two turnovers in those three games with a pair of picks.

Six of Michigan State's turnovers have come on fumbles, including three by junior LJ Scott. Cleaning that up has been a point of emphasis this week.

3. 'D' it up

A stout, physical defense has traditionally been the hallmark of the Spartans' program.

That is still expected to be the case, but the make up of that defense is in a state of transition. Three of Michigan State's starting four on the defensive line are sophomores who have competed during the opening weeks of the season.

Michigan State is allowing 121.7 rushing yards per game and has held each of its opponents well below its season average. Notre Dame, for example, finished with 182 rushing yards but that was 149 below what the Irish had averaged.

Linebacker Chris Frey, a 6-2, 238-pound senior, continues a tradition of strong middle linebackers in the program. The Spartans have had success getting to opposing quarterbacks, recording six sacks through three games.

4. Avoid the trap

Looking to bounce back from a loss takes a little of the edge off of this, but this week is a bit of a trap game for Michigan State.

The Spartans played an emotional game last week against long-time rival Notre Dame and by Tuesday, Dantonio was already working to brush aside questions about next week's game against Michigan.

The game with the Wolverines will be the first night game in that series and is generating a buzz in the state and on campus.

Can Michigan State avoid the trap this week?

Iowa (3-1, 0-1)

1. Establish the run

The Hawkeyes join the Spartans in working to their ground game on track this week.

Iowa's average of 3.79 yards per carry ranks 10th in the Big Ten and while Akrum Wadley's big-play ability has helped, a consistency in the run game has eluded the Hawkeyes so far this season.

Opponents have been geared up to stop the run, a natural challenge to an offense in the hands of a first-year starter at quarterback working with a group of largely new receivers and tight ends.

Injuries along the offensive line, which is expected to start the same five players for the third consecutive week, have also impacted the cohesion of the running attack.

2. Establish the pass

With the run game spinning its wheels a bit early in the season, the arm of Nate Stanley has helped the Hawkeyes compete.

The last Iowa quarterback to throw for more than the 12 touchdowns Stanley has thrown in a four-game stretch for the Hawkeyes was Chuck Long, who threw 14 touchdown passes in the first four games of his senior season in 1985.

Iowa needs its pass game to work as Michigan State will likely follow the Penn State blitz plan to test Stanley, who has seen Nick Easley develop as his go-to receiver.

Easley has 18 receptions so far this season.

3. Repeat the defensive feat

Defense gave Iowa a chance to beat fourth-rated Penn State last week and that same type of effort will again be needed if the Hawkeyes hope to bring home their first Big Ten win of the year.

In addition to being able to maintain contain against the mobility of quarterback Brian Lewerke, the Hawkeyes need to find a way to get off the field on third down after holding up through most of the 99 plays Penn State ran a week ago.

Iowa opponents have been averaging 4.7 yards per carry, a number coaches would like to see reduced.

4. Have a sense of urgency

It's week two of Big Ten play for the Hawkeyes and while this might not fall into the category of being a must-win game for Iowa, it certainly is a pivotal game for a team which reaches the midpoint of the regular season next week against Illinois.

An 0-2 start in the conference with both losses coming against teams from the East Division would be challenging for the Hawkeyes to overcome, especially considering what other teams expected to be in the thick of the race in the West face outside the division.

Wisconsin, which opens Big Ten play this week against Northwestern, faces Maryland, Indiana and Michigan in its crossover games.

Minnesota, the only other currently unbeaten team in the West, hosts Maryland today and also plays Michigan State and Michigan from the East.

For an Iowa team looking for an edge and with Ohio State yet to come on its out-of-division schedule, that makes the Michigan State game pivotal.

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