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), coming off a dramatic win last week over an emotional Penn State squad and looking ahead to a matchup next week with Iowa, coach Bo Pelini has the Huskers on the verge of a New Year’s Day bowl berth. If they can handle the often hit-or-miss Wolverines, that is.
After two hard-fought quarters, here are five things Nebraska must do to stay in the game against Michigan:
1. Stop the Michigan Running Game
This could be Nos. 1, 2 and 3.
Mixing things up between running quarterback Denard Robinson and tailback Fitz Toussaint, Michigan has moved the ball on the ground almost at will so far against the Huskers defense.
2. Force Denard Robinson Into Obvious Throwing Situations
ESPN’s Chris Spielman said after a horrific Denard Robinson first-quarter pass into double coverage that the Michigan quarterback “is not afraid to make a tough throw.”
That’s one way to put it.
Another is that he throws idiotically dangerous passes on occasion.
By bottling up the Blue rushing attack and forcing Denard (or perhaps backup Devin Gardner) into clear passing downs, interceptions and other mistakes are very possibly on the horizon.
3. Mix it Up on Offense
Michigan defense has played fairly well against its weaker foes, but, not surprisingly, it’s also shown that it can be confused by better offenses.
Between quarterback Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead, the Huskers have two excellent options on the ground. By getting some success rushing, they’ll force the Michigan defense to stack the box against the run and make them susceptible to play-action fakes.
Martinez throws a 54-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Kinnie.
They’ll need to keep the Michigan defense honest. And having some success through the air—mostly on short passes, like crossing routes and screens, but occasionally deep—should continue to open things up for Martinez and the Huskers.
4. Possess the Ball
Michigan has absolutely dominated the time of possession through the first half, yet the game is still close through two quarters.
This obviously goes back to Nebraska being able to move the ball on offense, particularly on the ground, but Denard Robinson and the Wolverines offense can't score when it's sitting on the sidelines. And the more they can keep them there, the more likely the Huskers are to hang with Michigan on the scoreboard.