|This story originally published on CollegeFootballNews.com|
Nebraska (8-2) at Michigan (8-2) Nov. 19, 12:00, ESPN/ESPN3
Here’s The Deal … In 1905, Michigan started out the season 12-0 outscoring its opponents 495-0 before losing to Chicago 2-0 in the season finale. Along the way was a 31-0 win over a Nebraska team that quickly got over the loss with a 102-0 win over Creighton. The two superpower programs have only played five times since, and while the 1986 Fiesta Bowl was interesting, this year’s battle of new Legends rivals is the biggest game of the bunch.
Both teams need a Michigan State loss in the final two games for the winner in Ann Arbor to have a shot at the division title. The Huskers came up with a stunning win over the Spartans two weeks ago to get in a position to take the division, only to blow it against Northwestern the following week. Now, the long, strange inaugural trip into the Big Ten is finally coming into the home stretch, and after last week, playing in front of over 100,000 Michigan fans won’t be a problem.
For all the discussion about what the Penn State players were going through last Saturday, the Nebraska players also had to deal with as bizarre a situation as any team has ever been put in. On the one hand, Nebraska was America’s Team, considering all the anger and outrage over Penn State as a university, but there was the emotion from the other side to deal with, facing a fired up team looking to win one for its fired coach and for themselves on Senior Day.
Michigan is likely out of the Big Ten title chase, needing Michigan State to lose twice and needing to beat the Huskers and Ohio State to close. No matter what happens, if the Wolverines win their final two games to finish the regular season with ten wins, the first year under Brady Hoke will be a success.
The two teams aren’t exactly mirror images of one another, but they both use the same form of transportation. Michigan has the nation’s 11th best rushing attack, ranking second in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin, while Nebraska is 13th in the nation. Both have hit-or-miss passing games, and both have strong enough defenses to rise up when needed and come up with a key stop. This is the start of something big, and there will be far more huge battles down the road, but this won’t be a bad start.
Why Nebraska Might Win: For all the excitement and all the talk over playing Nebraska, Michigan’s world revolves more around next week’s game against Ohio State in the hopes of stopping a six game losing streak. Michigan doesn’t have as much to play for, and it might show if the Huskers come out with more of a sense of urgency from the start. The Husker defensive front did a great job of holding its own against the Penn State offensive line last week and completely shut down the Nittany Lion attack for 40 minutes. The Husker line ended up allowing 166 rushing yards and two scores as Penn State was never able to establish itself like it needed to on the ground.
Michigan has had a turnover problem lately. Interceptions have been the norm throughout the season, but after going four games without losing a fumble, the offense has given it away three times in the last two games. Nebraska has also lost three fumbles over the last two games, but Taylor Martinez has kept the interceptions to a minimum with just one pick in the last four games. Over the last five games Nebraska has turned it over just four times, while over the same span Michigan has given it away 11 times. In a game that should be even on both sides, a +2 turnover margin could be the difference for the Huskers.
Why Michigan Might Win: Michigan faced a similar offense last week against Illinois, and the defensive front whipped the Illini offensive front to stuff QB Nathan Scheelhaase for 14 yards on 16 carries, finishing with three sacks and six tackles for loss. Meanwhile, the Husker defensive front has been good against power running teams with statues at quarterback, but Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray was able to roam free a bit for 67 yards and a score on 17 carries. The 1-2 punch of Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde – the starter before Dan Herron returned – combined for 195 yards and two scores with Miller averaging 9.1 yards per carry and Hyde ripping off a 63-yarder on the way to eight yards per carry. Michigan’s combination Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint should have similar success behind a line that’s hitting its stride at the right time.
Michigan has more weapons. Nebraska is a true two man offense with Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead taking turns to see who’ll carry the ball next, while Michigan has a night-and-day better receiving corps and far better options in the backfield. The Wolverines can come at the Huskers with more of a balance and can spread the ball around a little bit, while Nebraska has one pitch, and while it throws it very well, the defense knows what’s coming.
What To Watch Out For: Is Denard Robinson okay? He banged up his wrist against Illinois, forcing Devin Gardner come in, but he’s expected to be able to play this week. The problem is that Denard hasn’t been himself lately, failing to break off enough big runs and not nearly being the electrifying playmaker who tore up the first half of the season. He’s leaving the highlights to Fitzgerald Toussaint, who destroyed Illinois with 192 yards and a score. Robinson’s job is to finally try to go a game without throwing a pick, and if he can tear off a few big runs, the rest of the offense should open up wide.
Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David might not be among the nation’s top tacklers, but he’s making meaningful stops and he’s setting the tone with big stops game in and game out. After making 24 tackles over a two game stretch, he came up with nine against Penn State including a few game-changing late hits. If his name isn’t being called often, the Michigan running game is probably rolling.
What Will Happen: Michigan and Nebraska do many of the same things, but Michigan does them better. The defensive front is playing better and the receiving corps is far stronger. The Husker running game will work, but Robinson and the Wolverines will get more pop out of its attack with more of a passing game to balance things out.
CFN Prediction: Michigan 24 … Nebraska 20
- Click For Latest Line From ATS: Michigan -3.5 O/U: 50.5