- Marissa McClain/Daily
By Luke Pasch, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 25, 2012
Saturday’s matchup between Michigan (3-0 Big Ten, 5-2 overall) and Nebraska (2-1, 5-2) will feature one of the best dual-threat quarterback showdowns this college football season has to offer.
Wolverine senior Denard Robinson and Cornhusker junior Taylor Martinez have been leading their respective offenses very effectively in conference play this season, and both have their teams in the thick of Big Ten title contention.
“(Martinez is) a great quarterback, he’s a great runner,” Robinson said. “So he’s a dual-threat quarterback and I enjoy watching that. So, we’ll see on Saturday.”
Martinez sits behind Robinson and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller in rushing yards this season, but Nebraska’s offensive attack tends to be a bit more balanced than Michigan’s. Martinez doesn’t have to take on quite the same load of carries with a very effective tandem of tailbacks in sophomore Ameer Abdullah and senior Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead is questionable for Saturday’s game after he aggravated a former ACL sprain last weekend, so the Wolverines will be focused on Martinez and Abdullah in the Cornhuskers’ run-heavy offense.
“(Abdullah) is very fast,” said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. “He’s more of an edge guy. He can get on that edge and he can go. … He’s broken some big plays for them. He’s going to be a fast guy that we’re going to have to contend with.”
Michigan’s front seven will certainly have its hands full stopping Abdullah and Martinez. Nebraska’s rushing attack is tops in the Big Ten, statistically, and it may be the best the Wolverines have seen since Week 1 against Alabama, if not all season.
Still, the Wolverine secondary must be ready, especially if sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor isn’t ready to go after hurting his arm last week. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has become adept at using the run to set up the occasional play-action pass over the top.
This year, Michigan’s rush defense has been mediocre, allowing 143 yards per game, but it has fared much better in recent weeks. In its three conference games, the Wolverines have surrendered just 91 yards on the ground per game.
On the other side of the ball, Nebraska’s front seven hasn’t done as great a job, and Robinson should see some open field on Saturday. The Cornhusker rushing defense ranks 10th in the Big Ten, giving up 188 yards per game. And being that Nebraska’s secondary is very effective, Robinson should be more inclined either to keep it himself or hand off to redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint on most snaps.
“I don’t think they play a high-risk, high-reward type of defense,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges. “They’re basically in the right position most of the time. Their coverage is sound. They don’t do anything that you look and say, ‘Oh my God, we can take advantage of that.’ ”
But Borges was able to take advantage of Nebraska’s defense last season, when Michigan toppled the Big Ten-newcomer, 45-17, at the Big House. Robinson and Toussaint combined for 221 rushing yards and four touchdowns, and Robinson added two more touchdowns through the air.
One of the biggest factors in Saturday’s game will be the gameday atmosphere. As Michigan fans found out last season, Nebraska fans, dubbed the Sea of Red, travel very well — an indication that they’ll show up in droves for a key home matchup against the Wolverines.
And Michigan hates the color red.