After losing to Notre Dame in Week 4, Michigan has won its last three games, including a 12-10 nail-biter against in-state rival Michigan State last week.
As the No. 22 Wolverines get set to face Nebraska in Lincoln on Saturday, perhaps what was most encouraging about the Michigan State game was the fact that Michigan played stout defense.
Michigan State star running back Le'Veon Bell rushed for only 68 yards on 26 carries and junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell averaged 5.6 yards per pass attempt while tossing one touchdown to one interception. The Spartans were 6-of-17 on third down.
Of course, a defense can't execute unless everybody is on the same page.
Sophomore linebacker Desmond Morgan credits the Wolverines' chemistry as a reason why the defense has held five straight opponents to 13 points or fewer.
Morgan jumped offside twice in critical spots against Illinois two weeks ago when Michigan was only leading 10-0, but the defense had his back. He credited sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan for keeping his head up at the moment, via the Detroit Free Press.
Morgan responded by racking up a team-high 11 tackles against Michigan State.
On the other hand, the Wolverines face a whole different animal against Nebraska this week. Dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez has been much better this season, tossing 15 touchdowns to four interceptions while rushing for 403 yards and six touchdowns. It's part of the reason why the Cornhuskers are averaging 41.6 points per game, 12th in the nation.
Kyle Meinke of MLive.com wrote of Martinez:
He's always been a prolific runner, but now his passing game is coming together. His mechanics have improved. And he's been at his best at home, where he has yet to throw a pick.
Of course, Michigan has a dual-threat of its own in Denard Robinson.
In fact, Robinson was actually used on special teams in the second half against Michigan State (perhaps to be used on reverses or as a decoy).
Asked whether Robinson could be utilized on special teams against Nebraska, Brady Hoke said, via the Detroit News, "(He) could. Yeah, we could do that. It's not a bad idea."
My thoughts are that Hoke is just using Robinson as a decoy to give opponents something else to prepare for, but, who knows, maybe there is something to this.
Even if that's the case, Nebraska should have its hands full against Robinson when he's rushing the ball. Ohio State's Braxton Miller rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown in the Cornhuskers 63-38 loss in Week 6.
Asked if he was faster than Martinez on Wednesday, Robinson said with a smile, via MLive.com, "You can see it for yourself on Saturday."
Offensive coordinator Al Borges went with a conservative game plan against the Spartans last week in an attempt to keep Robinson's turnovers under control. In the 13-6 loss to Notre Dame, Robinson threw a whopping four interceptions.
The new approach appeared to work to an extent against the Spartans, as Robinson only threw one pick, and that was at the end of the first half. Meanwhile, the Wolverines racked up 163 rushing yards on 32 carries against the tough Michigan State run defense.
Borges said, via MLive.com, "We’re going to play the way we play because we want to have a nice, balanced effort. So it’s not always as flashy as everybody would like.”
Saturday's game in Lincoln will go a long way in determining who wins the Big Ten title this season. If Nebraska wins, they jump ahead of Michigan in the Legends division.
Hoke has made no qualms about stating his primary goal as winning Big Ten championships as coach of the Wolverines.
Hoke said, via ESPN:
Let's face it: besides graduating and honoring your name and your university, the expectations are to win Big Ten championships, especially at Michigan. We embrace it. We're not going to shy away from it, and we're going to be very honest about it.
The question is, if Nebraska does a good job against Robinson on the ground on Saturday, will the senior find a way to get it done through the air without coughing up the ball?
The Cornhuskers have allowed 5.6 yards per pass attempt this season (13th in the nation). On the other hand, they have only notched three interceptions, tied for 103rd in the FBS.
Well, I guess we'll find out.
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