Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Nebraska

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IIOctober 25, 2012

Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Nebraska

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    The Michigan Wolverines will travel to Memorial Stadium this weekend to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers and attempt to hold on to their outright lead in the Legends Division of the Big Ten Conference.

    The Cornhuskers have other ideas, though, as dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez and standout running back Ameer Abdullah will look to end Michigan's current three-game winning streak and avenge last season's embarrassing blowout loss in Ann Arbor.

    What will Denard Robinson and the Wolverines need to do in order to beat the Cornhuskers for a second straight year? Click ahead to find out!

Neutralize the Crowd

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    Memorial Stadium will be rowdy for this prime-time matchup between the Michigan Wolverines and Nebraska Cornhuskers, which means Denard Robinson will have to put an early score on the board in order to take the crowd out of the game.

    Robinson already has problems calming his nerves in big games, so the Wolverines need to find the end zone and get a couple of stops on defense to start the contest to help their starting quarterback settle in.

    Michigan is 3-3 in road games under head coach Brady Hoke, which means the Wolverines still have to prove they can handle winning in a hostile environment.

    Their only three wins in opposing stadiums came against the Purdue Boilermakers, Northwestern Wildcats and Illinois Fighting Illini. Those are not exactly the toughest stadiums to play in and do not even come close to simulating the environment the Wolverines will be thrust into Saturday night. 

Establish a Consistent Rushing Attack

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    The Michigan Wolverines' rushing attack is not the two-headed monster it was last season when Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint gashed opposing defenses, but that does not mean offensive coordinator Al Borges should abandon the ground game.

    Robinson should be able to burn Nebraska's defense on the outside all night long and Michigan's offensive line should have no problems pushing around the Cornhuskers' defensive front considering how bad the Blackshirts have been against the run this season.

    Nebraska allowed Johnathan Franklin to rush for over 200 yards in a loss to the UCLA Bruins this season, surrendered close to 400 rushing yards in a loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes and had Venric Mark rush for 118 yards on just 16 carries in a close win over the Northwestern Wildcats.

    The Cornhuskers are ranked No. 90 among all Football Bowl Subdivision schools in rushing defense, so do not be surprised to see the Wolverines running a lot of read-option plays early in the game and forcing Nebraska to slow down Robinson, Toussaint and potentially Thomas Rawls.

Make Taylor Martinez Throw the Ball to Win the Game

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    The Nebraska Cornhuskers have an outstanding dual-threat quarterback in Taylor Martinez, who has improved significantly as a passer, but the Michigan Wolverines have a stout enough defense to neutralize his legs and make him throw the ball to win the game.

    Sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan is playing the best football of his career right now and Kenny Demens has stepped his game up ever since true freshman Joe Bolden made a significant push for the starting job early in the season.

    The Wolverines have not allowed an opposing running back or quarterback to rush for more than 68 yards since their Week 3 victory over the UMass Minutemen.

    Additionally, Martinez has thrown four interceptions and only one touchdown in Nebraska's losses to the UCLA Bruins and Ohio State Buckeyes this season. 

    Michigan's defense should be able to limit the damage done by Martinez, Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead on the ground, which will force Nebraska to win the game with consistent passing. 

Outstanding Play on Special Teams

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    The Michigan Wolverines' special teams units were a major weakness during Rich Rodriguez's tenure in Ann Arbor, but head coach Brady Hoke and his staff completely turned around the kicking game after taking over prior to the 2011 season.

    Sophomore kicker Matt Wile nailed a 48-yard field goal and junior Brendan Gibbons went 3-for-3 against the Michigan State Spartans last weekend.

    Meanwhile, the Wolverines are implementing some new wrinkles into their kick return game, which already features freshman speedster Dennis Norfleet and senior tailback Vincent Smith.

    According to a report from SBNation on Friday, Hoke said it is "a possibility" that Michigan fans could see electrifying dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson returning some kickoffs against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

    Robinson came onto the field with Michigan's kick return team against the Spartans, but since he lined up in the second row of deep returners, it went largely unnoticed.

    Watch out for some big plays from the Wolverines' special teams this Saturday against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Avoid Turnovers

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    The primary reason the Michigan Wolverines were finally able to snap their four-game losing streak against the Michigan State Spartans last weekend was because of how well Denard Robinson and Co. limited their mistakes and did not turn the ball over in key situations.

    In fact, Michigan's only turnover of the game was when Robinson simply threw the ball up for grabs to end the first half of play, which did not affect the outcome of the contest.

    In the Wolverines' two losses this season, they have turned the ball over nine times and Michigan cannot afford to give the Nebraska Cornhuskers easy chances to put points on the board as a result of giveaways.

    If Robinson and the Wolverines take care of the ball for 60 minutes, Michigan should be able to escape Lincoln, Neb. with its sixth victory of the 2012 season and the inside track to a Legends Division title.