Rush Offense vs. Nebraska Rush Defense
What rush offense? Michigan had -48 yards against Michigan State last week, including just 8 carries for 20 yards from running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Michigan is now #100 in the country with just 3.65 yards/carry as a team, and the beaten and battered Devin Gardner might have a hard time returning to 100% after his battle against the Spartans. Luckily, Nebraska is #86 in the country and giving up 182.6 yards/game, including 4.54 yards/carry (which is 84th). The Cornhuskers have good size up front, especially with redshirt freshman nose tackle Vincent Valentine (6'3", 325 lbs.) and fifth year senior strongside end Jason Ankrah (6'4", 265 lbs.). Redshirt sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory (6'6", 255 lbs.) leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss, and redshirt freshman backup DT Avery Moss (6'3", 265 lbs.) has made 5.5 tackles for loss. Redshirt sophomore linebacker David Santos (6'0", 225 lbs.) and redshirt junior strong safety Corey Cooper (6'1", 215 lbs.) share the team lead in tackles with 55 each. Just because Gardner is banged up and might not be willing/able to break as many tackles as in the past, I'm going to give the edge to the Cornhuskers here.
Pass Offense vs. Nebraska Pass Defense
The Wolverines didn't do so hot passing the ball last week, but it was better than their running. Gardner is still completing 60% of his passes and the only pick he threw was very late in the game after he probably wished he was anywhere except Spartan Stadium. Michigan is #44 in passing yards/game and Gardner is the 20th-rated passer in the country. Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon is averaging 112.3 yards/game and 18 yards/catch, and tight end/wide receiver Devin Funchess has the 17th-highest yards per catch in the nation at 19.2. Unfortunately - and this is broken record time - Michigan has a weak interior offensive line and gives up sacks at a rate of 2.38 per game, good for 88th in the nation. Nebraska doesn't have any great pass rushers, but a little bit comes from everywhere. A total of twelve players have at least one sack, with Gregory and Moss leading the way at 3.5 each. As a team, their 22 sacks rank tied for #27 in the country. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers have notched 12 interceptions, 4 of which have been returned for touchdowns; remarkably, 3 of the picks and 2 of the touchdowns have come from defensive linemen. The top pass thief is fifth year senior cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6'3", 220 lbs.), who has returned 4 interceptions for 134 yards and 1 touchdown. This is a viable pass rush and pass defense (#38 in yardage against, #40 in passer rating against), but if Michigan can keep Gardner clean, Gallon and Funchess should be able to make enough plays to move the chains.
Rush Defense vs. Nebraska Rush Offense
Michigan is allowing just 3.23 yards/carry for opposing offenses, which is 11th in the country. Despite going over 100 yards, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford needed a late 40-yard run against a worn down, mentally exhausted Wolverines team to get there; otherwise, he was just barely over 3 yards a pop. Cornerback Raymon Taylor actually took over the lead in tackles by making 12 last week, putting him at 56 for the year, but inside linebackers Desmond Morgan and James Ross are right behind him with 55 and 54, respectively. Defensive end Frank Clark played had a career-best game last week when he made 9 tackles and now has 8.5 tackles for loss on the year. Despite lacking any real standouts in the front seven (save SAM linebacker Jake Ryan, who's working his way back into shape after a torn ACL), Michigan has a solid group. Junior I-back Ameer Abdullah (5'9", 190 lbs.) has been outstanding this year, going for 114+ yards in every game but one . . . and that one was a 98-yard effort against UCLA. He's the #6 rusher in the country with 138.5 yards/game and averaging 7.1 yards/carry. Sophomore backup Imani Cross (6'1", 225 lbs.) averages 5.1 yards/carry and has 9 touchdowns himself. Starting quarterback Taylor Martinez is expected to miss the game due to multiple nagging injuries, and fifth year senior backup Ron Kellogg III (6'1", 220 lbs.) isn't much of a threat with his legs. Nebraska has declared an open competition on the offensive line to get more production, but the guards and tackles average 6'6" and 315 lbs., and all the projected starters are fourth- or fifth-year players. The Wolverines should be able to slow down Nebraska's running game, but it's still a formidable challenge. UPDATE: Both starting guards are out for Nebraska, so I'm going to take the slight edge I gave to the Cornhuskers and flip it.
Pass Defense vs. Nebraska Pass Offense
Clark has notched 5 sacks this year, and the Wolverines have 17 altogether, which is middle of the pack. Players struggle to produce much of a pass rush on their own, but defensive tackle Jibreel Black (1.5 sacks) can apply some pressure and Jake Ryan did a good job prior to his injury. Blake Countess has 4 interceptions, and Taylor picked off his 3rd last week. The team is tied with Nebraska and others for 17th in the nation in picks with 12 total. On the opposite side of the ball, Kellogg is 32/46 for 456 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception this year. The receiving corps has a host of decent possession receivers. Fifth year senior hoss Quincy Enunwa (6'2", 225 lbs.) is a tough physical matchup and leads the team with 34 catches for 467 yards and 8 touchdowns. Redshirt junior Kenny Bell (6'1", 185 lbs.) might have the best speed, but he has averaged just 11.8 yards/catch. The deep ball shouldn't be too much of an issue for Michigan defensively, but Enunwa is the type of guy who could push around freshmen corners like Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis, both of whom have played extensively. If Michigan doesn't give those kids help by putting Taylor, Countess, or bracket coverage on Enunwa, it could be a long and frustrating day. The tight ends have combined for just 14 receptions and 1 touchdown this year, so while Michigan has occasionally struggled to cover tight end crossing routes, it shouldn't hurt Michigan too badly this week.
- Players who held scholarship offers from Michigan include LB Jared Afalava, DE Jason Ankrah, DT Jay Guy, S Charles Jackson, DE Greg McMullen, DT Tobi Okuyemi, OT Paul Thurston, DT Vincent Valentine, and DT Kevin Williams.
- No Nebraska players are Michigan natives.
- Fitzgerald Toussaint finds some running lanes for a decent day but gets tracked down by Nebraska's quick linebackers before turning out some huge runs. I'll say he goes for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns.
- Nebraska blitzes Devin Gardner a lot to try to keep him banged up, allowing Jeremy Gallon to get some quality one-on-one opportunities against some bigger, slower defensive backs.
- Michigan frustratingly allows Enunwa to beat up on some freshman corners.
- The Wolverines score a defensive or special teams touchdown.
- Michigan wins in convincing fashion, 38-24.
- In 2012, Michigan lost by a score of 23-9.
- Quarterback Denard Robinson got knocked out of the game in the middle of the second quarter, leaving redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy to look overmatched while completing 3/16 passes for 38 yards and 3 interceptions.
- Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah ran for 101 yards and 1 touchdown.
- It was mostly a field goal battle, as Brendan Gibbons and Nebraska's Brett Maher both went 3/3.