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What To Watch For: Michigan vs. Nebraska

Nebraska hasn’t won a football game in 329 days.

SMU v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

That’s right, it’s been 329 days since Nebraska has won a football game (Oct. 28, 2017 against Purdue). Michigan will look to extend that streak at least another week Saturday at the Big House in the conference opener.

Here’s what to watch for in the contest.

Nebraska’s Quarterback Situation

Cornhuskers’ starter Adrian Martinez missed the end of the team’s loss to Colorado and all of last week’s game against Troy, but is supposedly healthy enough to take the field against the Wolverines (or at least that’s what the Nebraska coaches are hoping for). The freshman is a significant upgrade over backup Andrew Bunch. Against Colorado, Martinez completed 15-of-20 passes for 187 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Bunch threw two picks against Troy.

If Bunch is the starter, this game shouldn’t be close. If Martinez is the starter, the game will be closer than if Bunch starts, but still should result in a Michigan win. Bottom line is Nebraska is still a very bad team. The addition of Scott Frost as head coach, while exciting, hasn’t turned into immediate success like many expected. But coming off a 4-8 season, there simply isn’t a high enough talent level for Nebraska to be overly competitive this year (at least in the early going).

Michigan Running Back Health

Starting running back Karan Higdon missed last week’s game with an injury, and backup Chris Evans exited in the fourth quarter against SMU, prompting questions about whether or not either would be ready for the Nebraska game. Both are on track to play, but we don’t know whether or not they will be at full strength.

The running game struggled to get going in the first three quarters against SMU, and if neither player is at 100 percent, it may be up to Tru Wilson to carry the load. He performed well at the end of last week’s game, but the Wolverines don’t have a lot of depth at running back. The offensive line will be tasked with opening up better running lanes than it did last week, and if the ground game can’t get going we could see Jim Harbaugh and company opt to air it out with quarterback Shea Patterson.

Higdon and Evans are vital pieces of the offense and will play a large role in the success of the team down the line, so keeping each player fresh, mixing in Wilson and getting each guy out of the game in the fourth quarter if Michigan grabs a big enough lead will be important.

Bounce Back Performance From Defense

Michigan’s defense didn’t perform as well as we’ve all come to expect against the Mustangs a week ago. The 20 points allowed was higher than projected and it put the offense in a position where it needed to score a couple times late to really feel like the game had been put away. Nebraska’s offense should be an upgrade over SMU’s, but look for defensive coordinator Don Brown’s unit to rise to challenge and play a much better game, particularly in the secondary.

Nebraska wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. is one of, if not the most talented receiver in the conference. He has 10 catches for 139 yards and a score through two games and will be a threat.

Michigan will need to play a much cleaner game Saturday as well. It can’t repeat its 13 penalty performance from last week.