It’s the start of a brand-new Big Ten rivalry as the 16th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to the Big House to face new Legends Division foes, the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines.
At 8-2 (4-2 in the Big Ten) and looking ahead to the annual rivalry matchup on Thanksgiving weekend with Ohio State, new coach Brady Hoke has the Wolverines on the verge of a New Year’s Day bowl berth. If they can handle the tough, visiting Huskers.
After two hard-fought quarters, here are four things Michigan must do to stay in the game against Nebraska:
1. Bottle Up Taylor Martinez on the Ground
In the first quarter, lightning-quick Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez tried an option to Rex Burkhead, but Michigan covered it well, and a bad pitch turned into a six-yard loss.
That’s precisely what Greg Mattison and the Wolverines' defense must do to contain the dual-threat QB and his tricky pitch option.
Keep him contained in the middle of the field, make sure there are linebackers or defensive backs wide to cover the option and they should be able to contain the Nebraska offense.
2. Make Martinez Throw the Ball
By keeping his running game contained, Michigan would do well to force Martinez into passing situations. Though he’s improving with his accuracy, having tossed just one interception in the Huskers’ last three games, Martinez is far from a traditional pocket passer. He can be deliberate and slow with his release, and he’s unlikely to dominate Michigan through the air.
The more Michigan can force the Huskers into passing situations, the more they’re likely to force mistakes and keep them off the scoreboard.
Sure, he threw a joke of a 54-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, on which the Michigan defense bit on a play-action fake, but Martinez’s success through the air will not be sustainable.
3. Keep Denard Robinson Comfortable
Shoelace is one of the most exciting players in the country. But you wouldn’t really know it from his last several games, including missing part of last week’s win over Illinois with a wrist injury.
Unlike in previous weeks, Robinson looks a bit more decisive running the ball and more or less comfortable throwing it so far against the Cornhuskers. His first-quarter touchdown toss to Jeremy Gallon—on which he had time and properly set his feet before gunning the ball into the end zone—is a perfect example of the comfort Denard must feel to be successful with his arm.
He must be able to move the ball in the second half—both on the ground and through the air—for Michigan to put up points in the second half.
4. Capitalize on Offensive Opportunities
Yes, Michigan was forced into a late first-quarter field goal after driving the ball into the Nebraska red zone. Yes, Denard Robinson took a tough sack on 3rd-and-8. Yes, it was frustrating not to get a touchdown with the ball deep in Huskers territory.
But enter Brendan Gibbons, whose season-long 42-yard field goal split the uprights.
It’s not seven points, but as long as the Wolverines are putting points on the board when they have the opportunity—especially via their typically suspect kicking game—we’ll take it!