Saturday could be another one of those classic games potentially mostly because of two of the most dangerous players at their position in Denard Robinson from Michigan and Taylor Martinez from Nebraska. Both are dialed back a little bit from last year, trying to run an offense, but both can get free and make big plays.
Nebraska played last weekend in front of nearly 108,000 fans in Happy Valley in a win over Penn State. Tomorrow will be in front of 110,000+. The Huskers will have to keep their composure and put together a solid game from beginning to end to get out of Ann Arbor with a win. Here are three story-lines for the game tomorrow:
1. No drive killers - Nebraska can't afford to drop passes and turn the ball over on Saturday against Michigan. Michigan has a very effective offense and can capitalize quickly on Nebraska errors. The dropped passes seemed to be a thing that Nebraska receivers had put behind them, but in critical situations against Penn State they returned. The fumble by Rex Burkhead also put Penn State within one score of Nebraska and helped swing momentum in Penn State's favor.
2. Containing Robinson - Simply put, Nebraska has struggled with mobile quarterbacks. There will be no bigger test to stopping or containing a mobile quarterback than the test in the nation that Nebraska will face this Saturday. Taylor Martinez is fast…but Denard Robinson is faster. Robinson gets to a top gear quickly and separates from defenders running away at the second and third level. Nebraska must find a way to contain Robinson and make him and Michigan throw the football to be effective offensively.
3. Stay balanced and take some shots – Nebraska will need to try and get into a game plan that attacks Michigan running the football various different ways from Martinez to Rex Burkhead to even the fullback taking some chances at softening up the front seven for Michigan. More importantly Nebraska must keep the secondary sucked up closer to the line of scrimmage and make some shots over the top to guys like Kyler Reed, Kenny Bell and Quincy Bell on Saturday. The big play will keep the defense honest, but will also take 100,000+ fans out of a game quickly.
The defenses for both teams are likely to try and put as much pressure on the opposing quarterbacks to throw the football. Oddly, if that is to happen, I actually would give the edge to Nebraska mostly because of Martinez's improvement through conference play to keep his eyes down field and throwing a very nice intermediate pass.
Both defenses are going to be tested by the offensive weapons that the opposing teams have. Big time weapons at all positions. Burkhead played big last weekend at Penn State, but he's clearly not 100% and with the emergence of Ameer Abdullah in the backfield I would expect that you would only see more of that this weekend as well.
The key tomorrow for Nebraska is limiting of mistakes. They can't afford penalties, dropped passes, fumbles and turnovers. Nebraska also needs to come out and put themselves in short yardage situations on second and third down to be able to take those shots downfield and staying in manageable down and distance to make conversions. I think that Nebraska puts it together next week and I expect a good defensive effort on the road, Huskers 27-20.