Michigan vs. Nebraska: Breaking Down Each Team's Keys to Victory
There is still a lot of football left, but the Big Ten Legends division can be decided on Saturday.
Michigan and Nebraska face off in a battle between Big Ten teams with the best chance at a successful postseason.
The Wolverines enter the game with a perfect 3-0 record within the conference, while the Cornhuskers only have one road loss to Ohio State. Only Iowa can match Nebraska's conference record, although that is the same team that lost to Central Michigan at home a few weeks ago.
This means that a lot is on the line in Lincoln this weekend. The winning team will be the one that follows these keys to the game.
1. Shut Down The Running Back
Le'Veon Bell of Michigan State only managed 68 yards on 26 carries last week. Donovonn Young of Illinois, Theo Riddick of Notre Dame and Purdue's Akeem Shavers all tried to beat Michigan on the ground, but ended with less than 3.5 yards per carry.
According to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN, Nebraska starting running back Rex Burkhead is unlikely to play on Saturday due to a knee injury. However, Ameer Abdullah has been very good in Burkhead's absence.
Michigan will control the game if it stops Abdullah on Saturday.
2. Find Someone Else to Step Up Offensively
Fitzgerald Toussaint, Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes have all had solid days throughout the season, but someone needs to consistently show that he can be trusted. The same goes for the receivers who all have fewer than 20 receptions on the season.
Opposing defenses are well aware of what the quarterback can do. At some point, someone else on the team must take some pressure off the senior and have some production on his own.
3. Stay Focused
Nine of the Michigan's 14 turnovers this season occurred against two teams: Notre Dame and Alabama. While Nebraska is still a while away from being considered near that level, this is still one of the better teams the Wolverines will face throughout the year, and the opposing crowd will only make things worse.
Robinson, as well as everyone else on the team, needs to make sure they do not make mental mistakes that can cost them the game. This includes penalties and other miscues as well.
This is a relatively veteran team compared to others in the Big Ten. Coach Brady Hoke needs to make sure those players stay in control in order to come out of this tough road game with a win.
1. Avoid Turnovers
Last week against Northwestern, 543 yards of offense was almost overshadowed by three fumbles. The Huskers were able to leave with a one-point win, but they were not as fortunate after four turnovers against Ohio State.
This has been a theme all season. Only six teams in the nation have more turnovers, and that has forced both sides of the football to do more work than necessary.
It is a problem that everyone on the team needs to work on fixing. If they are able to overcome this problem, it will make winning much easier.
2. Convert Third Downs
For the year, Nebraska has converted 45 percent of third-down attempts, which ranks a respectable 35th in the nation.
However, that number dropped to 36 percent in the loss to Ohio State, 21 percent in the narrow win over Northwestern and nine percent in the early-season loss to UCLA. Against UCLA, seven of the 11 third-down attempts were from at least eight yards from the marker, making it difficult to convert.
The coaching staff needs to make sure it calls productive plays on first and second downs to not put the team in a hole. Taylor Martinez is improving as a passer, but he is still inconsistent. He is unlikely to make too many third-and-long plays against this tough defense.
3. Key on Denard Robinson
The defense did not do well in defending Ohio State's Braxton Miller, but the Buckeyes also had running back Carlos Hyde to worry about. The junior running back finished with 140 yards and four touchdowns.
Michigan does not have as much of a secondary threat after Robinson. Fitzgerald Toussaint has experience at running back, but he does not have the explosiveness to beat teams for long plays.
If Nebraska focuses all of its defensive effort on stopping the quarterback—which is still not an easy task—the defensive unit can have a productive day.
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