The Michigan football team no longer controls its own destiny in the Big Ten, but that doesn’t stop the team’s rhetoric that a Big Ten championship is within reach. Never mind the fact that the Wolverines would have to win their last four games, while Michigan State would have to lose its last three games of its season.
The Wolverines gave Nebraska a rude welcome to the Big Ten when it played in Michigan Stadium two years ago, and the Huskers returned the favor when Michigan made the trip to Lincoln last season.
Here’s where each team will have an edge on Saturday.
Michigan pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense:
Remember the seven sacks of redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner last week?
Thought so. And so does the Michigan offensive line, the group on which most of the responsibility for Gardner’s beating lies.
At this point, it won’t matter how many times the offensive line is shuffled around. It’s inexperienced, and nothing except a few more years is going to fix that. That probably won’t do much good for when Nebraska arrives in town.
The Huskers aren’t known for having the same kind of defensive threat as Michigan State, but they still do have 22 sacks on the season.
The combination of Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess is always there for Michigan — assuming Gardner has enough time in the pocket to get the ball off.
Michigan rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense:
Michigan fans can breathe, since negative 48 rushing yards probably isn’t in the cards for the Wolverines for a second consecutive week.
The Huskers are a relatively easy team to run the ball against, allowing 182.6 rushing yards per game.
Saturday will likely continue to be the Fitzgerald Toussaint show. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said he would probably refrain from giving freshman Derrick Green carries until “the game is in balance.”
Nebraska pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense:
Last week’s game-winning Hail Mary against Northwestern aside, the Huskers’ strength most certainly isn’t in their passing game.
With starting quarterback Taylor Martinez out for a second-straight week, Nebraska is rotating between Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III. Though Kellogg is a more reliable passer, Armstrong has taken the majority of the snaps, and has thrown six interceptions in the past two games.
The Wolverines’ secondary, though nothing exceptional, has had its moments, even last weekend against Michigan State when it had one late-game interception. And with Nebraska’s offensive line weakened after a season-ending injury to senior guard Spencer Long, any type of pressure the Wolverines are able to put on Armstrong means they’ll be able to keep the Huskers’ pass offense under control.
Nebraska rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense:
Hello, Ameer Abdullah. You don’t need much of an introduction.
The Huskers boast the Big Ten’s premiere running back in Abdullah, who’s rushed for over 100 yards in every game but one this year for a total of 1,108 rushing yards on the season, good for sixth in the nation. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison called him the best running back the Wolverines will face this year.
Abdullah is fast. He’s athletic. If there’s any kind of hole, he’ll be running through it and down the field.
Good luck to the Wolverines trying to stop him.
Last weekend against the Spartans was a special teams battle. Though the Wolverines started off strong with a 49-yard field goal from Matt Wile, they ultimately came out on losing end of that battle, specifically when it came to punts and kickoff returns.
The Huskers fare fairly similarly to Michigan, averaging 22.9 yards per kickoff return and 41.3 yards on punts.
The Wolverines were embarrassed last weekend against Michigan State, and Hoke has been under more fire from the fans this week than he has been in the entirety of his tenure in Ann Arbor.
Still, the Wolverines seem optimistic coming off this week of practice. Save for last year’s games against Ohio State and South Carolina, Michigan has never had back-to-back losses under Hoke. Michigan is fired up.
This will also be Nebraska’s third time on the road this season and Armstrong’s second-ever road start. Earlier this week, Abdullah called Michigan fans “ruthless.” They can be even more ruthless when their program’s dignity is on the line.
Prediction: Michigan 30, Nebraska 26