TSX Files: UM v Huskers Breakdown, Prediction

Michigan has outscored the opposition 263-99 over the final three quarters in its 10 games and by a 162-70 score in the second half of those games

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
GAMEDATE: 11/19/11
SITE: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: ESPN
SERIES: Michigan leads 3-2-1 (last meeting, 2005, Nebraska 32-28)
RECORDS: Nebraska 8-2, 4-2 Big Ten; Michigan 8-2, 4-2 Big Ten
POLLS: Nebraska (No. 17 AP, No. 16 USA Today); Michigan (No. 20 AP, No. 18 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Michigan 21-14


KEYS TO THE GAME:

-- For Nebraska: Contain Dennard Robinson. The Michigan quarterback is like another running back for the Wolverines. Like most UM foes, Nebraska's game plan is to bottle him up and make him throw.

-- For Michigan: Build on defense. The Wolverines had a nice effort in shutting down Illinois last week. They need a similar performance to keep Nebraska from controlling the game with its rushing attack.

SCOUTING THE TEAMS:

Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said he was mad at himself after the Northwestern loss. By his own admission, the play-calling in Nebraska's 28-25 defeat was too conservative. That changed against Penn State, when Beck kept a stout Nittany Lion defense off-balance with new formations and looks -- including putting RB Rex Burkhead under center. Helping matters is the play of QB Taylor Martinez, who has improved his passing numbers while also operating the option game with better decision-making.

Nebraska is without DTJared Crick for the remainder of the season, but two other senior preseason All-American defensive standouts are doing their best to lead Nebraska's defense. LB Lavonte David made his second game-changing play of the Big Ten season Saturday when he made tackles on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 on Penn State's Silas Redd in the fourth quarter, thwarting the Nittany Lions' drive with 1:39 remaining. CB Alfonzo Dennard contributed with four solo tackles and two pass breakups, as he has shaped back into form after missing the season's first three games with a quad tear.

Michigan has worked backup QB Devin Gardner into the action a number of times this season, enough so that he can be more than a fill-in for starting QB Denard Robinson. With the improved running of RB Fitzgerald Toussaint and the steady play of TE Kevin Koger, Michigan has taken some of the play-making pressure off of Robinson, and become a better offense in the process.

Michigan's defense had its brightest moment of the season in the win at Illinois, when it held the Illini to just 37 yards rushing and 214 yards in total offense. The Wolverines will need that approach to slow Nebraska's rugged running attack and the unpredictable play of QB Taylor Martinez. Michigan has allowed less than 16 points a game this season, a nearly 20-point improvement over 2010.

FAST FACTS:

Cornhuskers: Nebraska faces another must-win situation to stay alive in the race for the Legends Division championship. The Cornhuskers are 4-2 in the division, a game behind Michigan State. Should the Spartans falter and lose to either Indiana or Northwester, that would open the way for the 'Huskers to tie for the title and earn a spot in the Big Ten title game by virtue of their earlier win over the Spartans. But a loss to the Wolverines eliminates that possibility. The Wolverines are 4-2 in the conference as well. ... The game at 110,000-seat Michigan Stadium is the Huskers' second straight road game in a venue that holds more than 100,000 fans -- a first in school history. ... Here's an intriguing bowl scenario for Nebraska, should the Huskers not win the Big Ten Conference -- or even advance to the league's first championship game. If Nebraska wins its final two games and finishes 10-2, the Huskers could be in position for an at-large BCS bid -- perhaps the Fiesta Bowl against old conference rival Oklahoma. ... RB Rex Burkhead has run for 1,072 yards through 10 games, becoming the first Nebraska player to crack 1,000 rushing yards in 10 games since QB Jammal Lord in 2002 (1,155 yards). The last 'Husker running back to accomplish that feat was Dahrran Diedrick, who had 1,097 rushing yards after 10 games in 2001.

Wolverines: Michigan last faced Nebraska in the 2005 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. ... This will be Nebraska's first visit to Ann Arbor since 1962, when the Huskers won 25-13 in Bob Devaney's first season as head coach. ... The lone meeting between the two teams in Lincoln resulted in a 6-6 tie way back in 1911. ... Michigan has outscored the opposition 263-99 over the final three quarters in its 10 games and by a 162-70 score in the second half of those games. ... Michigan's defense has held Big Ten opponents to 23-of-78 (29.5 percent) on third-down conversions. ... The Wolverines completed the month of October with three victories, which is more than Michigan won in the month in the three previous years (two wins total). ... QB Denard Robinson is Michigan's leading rusher with his average of 91 yards a game. He is throwing for about 171 a game. ... RB Fitzgerald Toussaint has started seven of the nine games he has played in this season. Toussaint missed the Notre Dame game due to injury. He has 788 yards rushing, second to Robinson's 1,026.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Cornhuskers:

LB Lavonte David -- David's third-down and fourth-down stops of Silas Redd in the fourth quarter at Penn State exhibited the senior's knack for making big plays. He'll need to do the same against Michigan QB Dennard Robinson and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint.

RB Rex Burkhead -- He's a player to watch every game for Nebraska. The junior running back continues to show his versatility -- he took snaps under center at Penn State -- and durability. Don't be surprised if coaches have even more wrinkles involving Burkhead this week.

QB Taylor Martinez -- The game appears to be slowing down for the sophomore, who ran the option at Penn State as well as he has all season, and has made good decisions and effective plays with his arms in the last two weeks. He will need the same smart management in another difficult road environment.

Wolverines:

QB Denard Robinson -- Robinson ranks first nationally in the FBS in yards per completion with his 15.82 average.

WR Roy Roundtree -- Roundtree is Michigan's active leader in receiving yards with 1,660 and in receptions with 120. He has started 26 games in his career, including the past 21 straight.

TE Kevin Koger -- Koger leads the Wolverines with three touchdown catches, the most touchdown receptions by a Michigan tight end since Bennie Joppru had five in 2002.

INJURY WATCH:

Cornhuskers:
TE Ben Cotton (arm, doubtful), OG Andrew Rodriguez (undisclosed, doubtful).

Wolverines:
OL Ricky Barnum (ankle, probable)


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