Saturday's game in Lincoln will be the first time the Michigan Wolverines have hit the road in 2023. A Nebraska Cornhuskers squad that has had a rocky start to the Matt Rhule era will be awaiting their arrival. They’ve swapped starting quarterbacks already, just four weeks into the season, and rely on their defense to stay in games.
The Wolverines have a history of struggling in the first conference road game of the season, and Nebraska is certainly capable of pulling off an upset. Here are the guys the Wolverines will have to look out for at Memorial Stadium this weekend:
LB Luke Reimer
Luke Reimer is questionable for this game, and if he doesn’t go, it will be a huge blow for the Cornhuskers. He’s one of the better linebackers in the Big Ten and is off to a great start this season.
The senior has recorded 85 or more tackles in each of the last two seasons. Entering his third season as a starter, Reimer is the veteran leader of this defense and is known to make some big plays over the middle.
Reimer already has 2.5 sacks, so he can get to the quarterback in a hurry. He gets downhill in the run game, a big reason Nebraska has the No. 2 run defense in the country so far.
If Reimer plays, he has the chance to be a difference-maker.
S Isaac Gifford
Gifford is a nickel corner, but he plays all over the field. He plays more like an in-box safety or linebacker, but will also line up deep. He’s big enough at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds to shed blocks by tight ends and get into the backfield for tackles for loss.
At the same time, he’s a gifted athlete. Nebraska will bring him down to the line of scrimmage and have him blitz off the edge. He’s also strong in coverage against tight ends and even slot receivers. Matt Rhule took it a step further in August when he called Gifford a “mutli-year NFL player in terms of his talent.”
So far this season, Gifford is leading the Huskers in tackles (23), passes defended (three), and interceptions (one). He’s going to be a really good defensive matchup for Donovan Edwards when he lines up in the slot, or Colston Loveland when he lines out wide.
However, if he is ever matched up with Roman Wilson, it could be one to exploit. Wilson has the upper hand against just about anybody in the slot because of his speed, and Michigan could find ways to take advantage of that if done correctly.
Either way, it will be fascinating to see how Rhule utilizes him on Saturday.
QB Jeff Sims/Heinrich Haarberg
We’re still unsure about who will be behind center for this game, but honestly, I don’t think it will change Nebraska’s game plan very much.
Jeff Sims was horrible the first two weeks of the season. He threw three interceptions in Week 1 against Minnesota, and had three turnovers against Colorado the very next week. He has been turnover-prone and inefficient his entire career. He has completed less than 60 percent of his passes and has thrown 31 touchdowns to 27 interceptions, with most of those games being played at Georgia Tech.
Sims has been dealing with an ankle injury that kept him sidelined the last two weeks. In his stead has been sophomore Heinrich Haarberg. In just two games, he has become the team's leading rusher. He ran the ball 40 times in those two starts for 255 yards and two touchdowns. While that is a remarkable accomplishment, he did it against Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech.
When Haarberg needed to throw the ball, he was just as inefficient as Sims. He’s 22-for-41 for 278 yards and three touchdown passes in his two starts. Despite his lack of experience, I think he gets the nod Saturday because he has taken care of the football. He was strip-sacked against Northern Illinois on the second drive of his first career start. Since then, he hasn’t turned it over.
Now comes a Michigan defense that just squashed the production of Gavin Wimsatt on the ground last week. The Wolverines will likely bring in a similar game plan against the Cornhuskers. I expect the Wolverines to stack the box and make whoever plays quarterback make difficult throws toward the sidelines. Neither of these signal-callers is accurate, and if they are forced into passing downs, it is going to be a tough day for Nebraska.