When the Wolverines know the Huskers must pass, how will the NU blockers react to unconventional looks? Defensive ends standing up. Linebackers and defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes they're bluffing. Other times they're blitzing. Linebacker Jake Ryan leads Michigan in tackles (52) and sacks (3Ĺ) — he will be NU's biggest concern in these spots.
NU rush offense vs. UM rush defense: Michigan's allowed only three runs of more than 20 yards, giving up an average of 3.7 yards per carry. But expect NU to work the perimeter. Stretching out a defense sideline to sideline opens Taylor Martinez's up-the-middle runs and the power game. It will hurt NU to be without Rex Burkhead. But Ameer Abdullah is versatile, and Braylon Heard has shown flashes of electricity. Edge: Nebraska
NU pass offense vs. UM pass defense: Martinez led a comeback with poise and authority, finishing the Northwestern win with 10 completions in 11 tries. But this week, he'll be up against a defense that ranks first in the Big Ten against the pass (142.3 yards per game). Hitting a couple of long throws to Kenny Bell or Quincy Enunwa will be key, but a deceptive blitz scheme may not give Martinez enough time to find them. Edge: Michigan
UM rush offense vs. NU rush defense: NU appeared to solve some of its issues against the zone-read option last week. Aside from an 80-yard run, the Huskers allowed 3.7 yards per carry. Denard Robinson may be the best ball carrier in the league, though. Running back Fitz Toussaint is inconsistent, but Robinson leads the league with 128.6 rushing yards per game. Edge: Michigan
UM pass offense vs. NU pass defense: Take away Robinson's jaw-dropping third-down success against Nebraska last year, and he completed 6 of 11 passes for 53 yards. Michigan's route combinations handcuffed NU at times, but the Huskers say they addressed the problems in the offseason. Teams are completing just 49.3 percent of their passes against Nebraska. And NU defenders will have plenty of chances for pass breakups and interceptions Saturday. Edge: Nebraska
Special teams: Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons hit three field goals last week. Freshman Dennis Norfleet has more kickoff return yards (494) than any other Big Ten player — and Denard Robinson could join him on that unit. Nebraska appears to be no better in this phase than last year, when it fumbled two kickoffs and committed a costly roughing-the-punter penalty. Edge: Michigan
|PIGSKIN IN THE PARK|
|Click the image above to learn about "Pigskin in the Park," Omaha's ultimate Nebraska-Michigan tailgate party.|
Intangibles: These hype-filled moments haven't been Nebraska's specialty. The Huskers have either been too juiced up or lethargic. They'll have to find the right balance, but it's clear they'll play off the Memorial Stadium crowd. And the place should be rocking all game. The atmosphere will be nothing new to Michigan, but that doesn't mean the Wolverines will handle it properly. Edge: Nebraska
Nebraska will win if: It takes care of the football and capitalizes on a few of Michigan's mistakes. The turnover battle is key.
Michigan will win if: It can take the Husker crowd out of the game by snatching a lead in the first half and sustaining long drives.
Our take: It's too bad neither team could make it through the nonconference season unscathed, or at least with the nation's respect. This game has appeal — two of college football's all-time victory leaders will always draw eyeballs — but it could have been a bigger stage. Still, the clash is basically a play-in game for the Big Ten title game and a chance for NU to again establish itself as an annual threat to the league's traditional powerhouses. The Huskers appear to be mentally ready, but can they execute well enough to win? Against equally talented teams, NU has been mistake-prone all year. That trend's unlikely to change.