Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Michigan Wolverines: Complete Game Preview
Nebraska must win out in November.
The first step in doing so will be defeating the Michigan Wolverines.
Traveling to the Big House after an exciting win over Northwestern, Nebraska is out to win the Big Ten Legends Division.
To do so, the Huskers must beat Michigan. It won't be an easy task, either.
Saturday will be the ninth all-time meeting between the two schools. It will also be the last time the two meet until 2018.
Michigan currently holds a 4-3-1 edge over the Huskers in the series. Additionally, the Wolverines hold a 3-1 advantage when at home in the Big House.
The kicker is that head coach Brady Hoke is a perfect 19-0 at home as Michigan's head coach. Overcoming that is quite the daunting task for the Huskers.
Will Nebraska be able to win despite the odds?
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
When: Saturday, Nov. 9, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Listen: Husker Sports Network, Sirius Channel 91, XM 91
Betting Line: Michigan (-7), per Bovada
Nebraska's Keys to Victory
1. Step Up on Offensive Line
Nebraska's offensive line was one of the least worrisome aspects coming into the 2013 season.
In fact, led by senior Spencer Long, the offensive line looked to be in a really good position.
That is until Long was injured.
Since then, it's been a rough adjustment for those stepping up for the offensive line. Too many times, opposing teams have found ways to break through and get to the quarterback.
Michigan's defensive line isn't exactly the toughest, so this is a good opportunity for Nebraska to step up.
Injuries have plagued this group, but they shouldn't define it. The Michigan matchup will be a chance to turn it around.
2. Defensive Stands
Nebraska's defense allowed Northwestern to score on three of its first four possessions.
With former Husker Ndamukong Suh on the sidelines, it was the concerning part of Nebraska's game. While the offense battled to score, the defense couldn't stop the opposing team from doing the same.
With 11 minutes, seven seconds left in the second quarter versus Northwestern, things changed. The Huskers stopped the Wildcats on their next 11 possessions and forced 10 punts.
Adding to it, defensive end Avery Moss snagged an interception that he returned for 25 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
However, the defense made its biggest stand at the end of the fourth quarter. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong had just thrown a pick on the 7-yard line. It looked inevitable that the Wildcats would score.
That is until the Blackshirts took a stand. Holding Northwestern to only a field goal, Nebraska was then able to make the Hail Mary pass happen.
Whatever came over the Huskers as the game continued on versus Northwestern is exactly what must happen against Michigan.
Putting pressure on Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner will do nothing but benefit Nebraska.
It will be a big game for the Nebraska defense, but the group has shown what it is capable of when the players come together.
3. Stay Calm
The Big House is a daunting environment. I-back Ameer Abdullah knows this.
During Monday's press conference, Abdullah address the Michigan fans, via Huskers.com:
The Big House two years ago, they killed us up there. I was kind of shell-shocked. I didn't play much but just being there. Michigan fans are nasty, man. They are ruthless.
With that said, the Big House will be a big challenge.
The Huskers must find a way not to let it get to them. Opposing fanbases love to startle visiting teams, and Michigan will be no different.
Nebraska just needs to stay calm and focused on the end goal. If the team can do that, the Big House won't feel so big after all.
Michigan's Keys to Victory
1. Improvement from Offensive Line
Michigan's offensive line allowed quarterback Devin Gardner to be sacked seven times against Michigan State.
Though the Spartans defense is good, that doesn't change the strategy going forward.
Michigan walked away with minus-49 rushing yards against Michigan State, and Gardner walked away injury-free but exhausted.
The Nebraska defense is hardly what Michigan State's is. However, that doesn't mean the group can't beat up on Gardner if given the opportunity.
Defensive end Randy Gregory will be a big threat if Michigan's offensive line can't step up. This group can really change the outcome of the game.
It'll be interesting to see if Michigan is able to adjust that.
2. Stop Ameer Abdullah
Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah is going to run. There is no secret there.
How prepared Michigan's defense is to stop Abdullah is an entirely different story.
In the two previous years Abdullah has faced the Wolverines, he has done nothing but improve.
In 2011, Abdullah only had 19 yards and a score as a freshman for Nebraska. The Huskers lost 45-17 in the Big House that year.
By 2012, Abdullah redeemed himself, rushing for 101 yards on 24 carries. He also recorded one touchdown in Nebraska's 23-9 victory.
Needless to say, the I-back has only improved even more then. So Michigan's defense will have to be ready. If not, Abdullah will run all over the place.
3. Put Pressure on Tommy Armstrong
This will be quarterback Tommy Armstrong's first trip to the Big House. It will also only be the redshirt freshman's second start on the road.
With that said, Michigan needs to put pressure on Armstrong.
The Wolverines defensive line has struggled recently, but an injured Nebraska offensive line should make it a bit easier.
If Michigan can't put pressure on the quarterback, the Huskers offense will find ways to score. Regardless of quarterback, the talent on Nebraska's offense is strong enough to make that happen.
However, if pressure is put on Armstrong, things could get messy for the Huskers. Turnovers are Nebraska's worst nightmare, but Michigan's defense will have to step to make that happen.
Players to Watch from Nebraska
Tommy Armstrong (RFr., QB)
Against both Purdue and Northwestern, quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw three interceptions in each.
Many blame it on inexperience, which it very well could be.
However, the Big House will be different. Armstrong will have to be ready.
The young quarterback has done a nice job running the offense so far, but he will be the target of Michigan on Saturday.
How he handles himself could determine his starting status for the rest of the season.
Ameer Abdullah (Jr., I-back)
I-back Ameer Abdullah now has two back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. That's a reason to celebrate.
Abdullah isn't slowing down anytime soon, though.
In fact, Abdullah is still on track to add quite a few more yards to that number for 2013.
While November will present a challenge, especially when facing defenses like Michigan State, Abdullah will be out to make plays.
During the Big Ten conference call on Tuesday, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke had a little something to say about Abdullah. "He's one of those guys who can break your ankles in the hole," Hoke summarized, via Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald.
Abdullah will definitely be one to watch.
For a full depth chart, click here.
Players to Watch from Michigan
Devin Gardner (RJr., QB)
Head coach Brady Hoke said quarterback Devin Gardner was beat up after the Michigan State loss. It's not surprising either.
Gardner was sacked seven times and hurried another seven times.
However, after a couple days to rest up, Gardner is expected to be just fine to play against Nebraska.
Hoke calls Gardner a warrior. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini recognizes how well Gardner can run the Wolverines offense.
With a struggling defense in front of him, Gardner could make Saturday's matchup very interesting.
Devin Funchess (Soph., TE)
Tight end Devin Funchess is a Michigan native. In his time on the Wolverines roster, he's become known for more than just that.
In fact, Funchess, opposite fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, has become an offensive threat for Michigan.
While listed at 6'5" and 235 pounds, Hoke often describes the tight end as 6'6" or taller.
Regardless, Funchess is a tall and physical player for Michigan.
He will test Nebraska's secondary, just as he has every team up until now. Against Minnesota, it was a 46-yard reception. As for Penn state, it was a 59-yard score.
Funchess is a power player, and Nebraska will have to be ready.
For a full depth chart, click here.
What Are They Saying?
On Taylor Martinez:
He's beat up a little bit. I feel so bad for the young man. He wants to be out there worse than anything. It's a number of different things bothering him right now.
On if Tommy Armstrong will start:
Yes. We wouldn't change anything right now.
On whether or not Ameer Abdullah is the best running back in the Big Ten:
I know one thing. I wouldn't trade him for anybody. I know there are other good backs out there. Obviously I believe so much in Ameer that, like I said, I wouldn't trade him for anyone in the country. Not only as a player but as a person, as a leader and what he brings. To me, he embodies what this program and this culture is all about here.
On if he cracked a beer after the Northwestern game:
I haven't drank a beer in months. I crack a Coke.
On Michigan's Offense:
Obviously it starts with their quarterback. He's a playmaker. He's a guy who is very athletic and can kind of do a lot of things to put him in position to make some plays. I think they have good, skilled people. I like their running back. He's from just outside of Youngstown, so you know he's a really good football player. They've got some wideouts that can make some plays down the field. They've got some good skill. They use a number of different combinations up front on their offensive line. They've had a couple injuries. They have a really good tackle, an All-American tackle. He's going to be as good as we've played against. We'll have our work cut out for us.
On his favorite nickname for "the play":
I guess one of the funny ones on Twitter was the Husky Hail Mary. There was like a big ordeal with how I looked in my rib protector. It made me look like I was 280. That adds 10 lbs., plus the camera.
On what he did after the play:
I talked to the Army guys on the sideline. Hung out with them for a little bit. Saw a couple of my teammates' parents and hung out with them. Saw my mom, brother and sister and hung out with them. Then I was being harassed because the Big Ten (Network) wanted to interview me, so then I did that. Taylor (Martinez) then came out and we had a hug for like 35 minutes. Then I finally went in the locker room. It was a total bromance moment. We've been friends for a long time now, including roommates. He just told me that it was a play that he will never forget and that he's glad I'm his teammate and that we've been such close friends.
On being a Nebraska native and having that special moment:
It's something I will never forget, ever. I was told it was the first ever Hail Mary in Memorial Stadium, so that's cool for a historic piece of it. I'm just glad all my friends and family were able to witness it. Hopefully it stays in the record books for a while.
On his reaction to the Hail Mary:
I know I went berserk. I know that. I think I ran down to the North end zone and I just like jumped 30 feet in the air. It was a great moment. You saw the team rush the field. It's always good being a part of something like that. Something you will never forget.
On going to the Big House:
It's going to be fun, man. The Big House two years ago, they killed us up there. I was kind of shell-shocked. I didn't play much but just being there. Michigan fans are nasty, man. They are ruthless. And I wouldn't have it any other way. That's Big Ten football. They always sell out. We got a lot of young guys and we got to bring them down to planet Earth and make them realize just to stay with your techniques and do what you're taught and we'll like the results.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are courtesy of Nebraska's weekly press conference, via Huskers.com.
Brady Hoke has never lost at home as the head coach of Michigan.
Let that resonate for a moment.
While the Wolverines have had a rough 2013, it's hard to see that fact changing.
If any team is capable of changing that this season, it is Nebraska. With that said, it definitely will not be easy for the Huskers to escape the Big House with a win.
With a defensive line still struggling and an offensive line battling injuries, Nebraska is a big question mark.
Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez won't start once again, meaning redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong will lead the Huskers.
This will ultimately be a statement game for the young quarterback.
With Michigan's defense abysmal at this point, Nebraska's offense will have the opportunity to attack. With I-back Ameer Abdullah on the ground and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa in the air, the Huskers will have plenty to work with.
It will ultimately come down to offensive coordinator Tim Beck's game plan and the Blackshirts taking a stand. Success on both of those is very possible.
November has notoriously been a successful month for head coach Bo Pelini. No point in that changing now.
Prediction: Nebraska 34, Michigan 27
For complete team coverage and everything Huskers, you can follow Erin on Twitter at @erinsorensen.