After a week where football took a definitive back seat to more important and difficult issues, the focus returns to the gridiron as Nebraska heads to Ann Arbor to face Michigan. We all know about Denard Robinson’s wizardry with his feet, but under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines have rediscovered how to play some defense as well.
So what should you be looking for when you put your scrambled eggs down (another 11:00 a.m. start, don't you know) and watch the game? Here are three good signs and three bad signs to watch out for.
Hey, remember the beginning of 2010, when Taylor Martinez looked like he was going to run and throw circles around Nebraska’s record books? Remember when Martinez was touted as an early-season Heisman contender?
It does seem a long time ago, but those skills haven’t evaporated. And while it is important for Martinez to stay within the offense, it wouldn’t hurt to see some of that blinding speed get displayed. If Martinez can find some seams and remind the nation that Denard Robinson isn’t the only quarterback in the Big House with wheels on Saturday, Nebraska’s chances for success shoot way up.
Denard Robinson is good at a lot of things that make opposing defenses nervous. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, he’s also good at throwing the ball to the opponents. If Robinson continues to be loose with the football and gives Nebraska a couple of turnovers early, NU gains a significant advantage.
A year ago, Michigan was nothing short of terrible. Fast forward to present day, and the Wolverine defense is far more stout. Indeed, last week Michigan held Illinois to only 37 yards rushing.
Of course, Nebraska isn’t Illinois. Getting a running game going with Rex Burkhead will be central to setting up the other things Nebraska wants to do offensively with its young talent. How successful that running game is against Michigan will go a long way towards deciding how successful NU is against Big Blue.
Remember when we previewed the Northwestern game and raised concerns that a mobile quarterback would make the defensive gains showed against Michigan State look like a mirage? Remember how the Wildcats quarterbacks made that concern come true?
Yeah. There’s not many quarterbacks more mobile than Denard Robinson.
If there is one question to be asked in this game, it is how Nebraska will face the ultimate expression of its defensive Achilles heel. If NU continues to struggle with the mobile quarterback, its hopes of a division title will die on the field at the Big House.
The billing for the game is pretty easy—two mobile quarterbacks who are less than accurate throwing the ball. But Michigan is set up to be a one-man show (right down to a passing quarterback as the backup if need be). Nebraska’s offense has evolved throughout the season to make Taylor Martinez part of the offense, not the entire offense.
If, either through Michigan’s defense or Martinez’s competitiveness, we go back to the one-man show Martinez put on at the end of 2010, Nebraska’s chances for success diminish significantly.
Nebraska held on to win a nail-biter of a game against Penn State, which was disturbing given that NU had opened a 17-point lead. But they did hold on for the win, under difficult circumstances on the road in a game that had to carry at least some emotional weight given all the stories surrounding the game.
After Nebraska’s last emotional win, against Michigan State, the team came out flat and uninspired and got knocked off by Northwestern at home. Sure, it’s far less likely that NU will be looking past Big Blue, but this year’s NU squad has been an emotional roller-coaster. If it comes out even a little fat and happy after the Penn State win, Michigan is good enough to bury NU and end the game early.
Going into the Northwestern game, I was willing to give Nebraska’s defense the benefit of the doubt. A talent gap, combined with what was supposed to be a shaky defense, seemed to conspire for NU to finally put the “mobile quarterback” bugbear in the rearview mirror.
We all know how that worked out.
Now, Nebraska is going on the road to one of the storied stadiums in college football. It is going to face the textbook definition of a mobile quarterback, the opponent the Blackshirts have yet to prove they can stop.
In terms of overall talent, I think Nebraska has a slight edge on Michigan. But until I see the Blackshirts able to effectively contain a mobile quarterback, I just can’t put my faith in them to do so. And if Nebraska can’t contain Denard Robinson, it’s going to be very difficult to out-score Michigan’s resurgent defense. I think Michigan fans will be happy this Saturday, and then rooting extra-hard against their in-state rivals the following week.
Fearless Forecast: Michigan 31, Nebraska 24