Nebraska football fans had to come down off their collective high after the Hail Mary victory over Northwestern to look at NU’s next opponent, Michigan. The Wolverines are led on offense by their quarterback, Devin Gardner, a true dual-threat weapon for Michigan.
The Blackshirts’ defensive success in the second half against Northwestern, culminating in what turned out to be a game-saving goal-line stand, gave Nebraska fans some additional hope as a trip to the Big House loomed. So what will the Blackshirts need to do if they are to contain Gardner and help NU beat Michigan and stay alive for a divisional title?
Heat Him Up
Against Michigan State last week, Gardner was sacked four times. In the first quarter. The Spartans sacked Michigan quarterbacks seven times that day en route to a 29-6 mauling of the Wolverines, laying out something of a blueprint on how to defend Gardner and company.
Sure, it’s not rocket science to conclude that pressuring a quarterback will help your defense. And yes, it helps to have Michigan State’s defense to put that game plan into practice.
But take a look at how Nebraska’s defense found its feet on Saturday. After getting bullied by Minnesota—let that sink in, by Minnesota—the week before and seeing it happen again against Northwestern—again, let that sink in—the Blackshirts were finally able to get some mojo back.
They did it in large part by turning up the pressure, getting into the opposing backfield and putting Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian on their respective backs. Putting that kind of pressure on Gardner has to be mission number one for Nebraska’s defense on Saturday.
Turn Him Over
Michigan is No. 84 in the country in turnover margin at -0.25, coming into the game with six lost fumbles and twelve interceptions. Michigan’s 12 interceptions (of which Gardner is responsible for 11) is No. 104 nationally. More disturbingly for fans of Big Blue, Gardner is No. 5 nationally in total fumbles with seven, having lost four of them. That makes 15 total turnovers for Gardner in eight games, averaging 1.875 (!) turnovers per game.
So Gardner certainly has some ball-security issues. If the Blackshirts are able to accomplish goal number one and get pressure on Gardner, it is fair to expect he will be more likely to turn the ball over. And turnovers for Nebraska, on the road in a game to keep NU’s divisional championship hopes on life support, could make the crucial difference.
So, how will the Blackshirts do against Devin Gardner?
Keep Him On The Sidelines
Yes, I realize that technically this isn’t up to the Blackshirts. But with redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong getting the start, Nebraska would be wise to shelve the up-tempo offensive scheme and take the air out of the ball. Armstrong has six interceptions this season, and to ask a redshirt freshman to come into the Big House in a critical situation and clean up his security issues is simply unfair.
Ameer Abdullah is leading the Big Ten in rushing. Nebraska is deep at running back behind him, with Imani Cross and Terrell Newby both showing signs of promise. Simply for the sake of playing to its strengths, Nebraska would be wise to lean heavily on a rushing attack against Michigan on Saturday.
And that game plan would have the added benefit of keeping the clock moving, keeping a demoralized Michigan crowd out of the game and keeping Gardner on the sideline where he can’t hurt Nebraska.
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