No. 9 Michigan (5-0) is set to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers Saturday night in what many are predicting to be a close game.
If Michigan wants to pull away in this one, there are a few things that will go a long way. Here’s a look at Michigan’s keys to victory versus Scott Frost’s Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Don’t let Adrian Martinez get comfortable or find the edge
Martinez has been quite good this season, as a passer and as a runner.
Martinez has rushed for 412 yards with a whooping 9 touchdowns on the ground — and he has a 66.7 completion percentage, 1,463 yards through the air along with 6 TDs and 2 INTs.
While Martinez can throw the ball effectively, Michigan linebackers coach George Helow is giving him the running back treatment. Helow and UM players noted this week that they’re preparing for the triple-option attack led by Martinez.
“In a lot of ways he’s like a running back playing quarterback,” Helow said. “With a guy, it doesn’t matter if you’re running a pressure or a pass rusher or it’s an open-field play, you’ve got to take the approach of tackling that guy like a running back. Because, really, that’s what he is. He can also throw the ball, makes a lot of plays. As you see on tape — but he can take off, he’s got gas, he can go. Respect what he does on tape.”
Nebraska has allowed 18 sacks and 90 QB pressures, and there’s a chance Michigan’s pass-rush can feast despite the speed of Martinez. Michigan tallied 6 sacks against Wisconsin and will try to keep their foot on the gas against Nebraska.
Win the time of possession battle
Nebraska’s been excellent at holding onto the football, ranking fifth in the nation in time of possession and fifth in first down offense. Michigan’s defense was put in a tough spot against Rutgers in the second half when the UM offense couldn’t generate a first down on four consecutive drives. Michigan won the game 20-13, but things got dicey because of how long they were on the field in the third and fourth quarter. This should be another point of emphasis heading into this one — get Nebraska off the field, and continue to move the chains on offense.
Stay balanced on offense
Michigan was balanced on offense against Wisconsin, something that may happen again in this one. After rushing the ball around 70 percent heading into Wisconsin, Michigan passed at a higher clip and had success when the Badgers stacked the box. Cade McNamara threw for 2 TDs, J.J. McCarthy had a long touchdown pass as well.
As good as Michigan’s running game has been, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Nebraska take a similar approach to Wisconsin, and hone in on stopping Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. If Nebraska starts stacking the box, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis will allow McNamara to let it rip and see if he can continue to find success throwing the ball down the field. Nebraska is near the middle of the pack in rush defense (No. 44) and pass defense (No. 43), and it’ll be interesting to see Michigan’s strategy.
Embrace the road environment
Nebraska demolished Northwestern 56-10 in Lincoln last week, the team is 3-3 but a highly competitive 3-3 with narrow losses to Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Illinois. Point being, the crowd should be amped up for a nationally televised night game on ABC.
Michigan really embraced the road environment last week against Wisconsin — they jumped around to the song “Jump Around”, a Camp Randall staple, while the Badgers sideline looked over at the Michigan sideline (and their energy) in disbelief and lethargy. This is the exact type of attitude winning teams have at home, and on the road. It’s all about attitude, man.
Play better than Nebraska on special teams
Nebraska kicker Connor Culp is just 5-of-10 on the season, Michigan kicker Jake Moody is 8-of-9. Nebraska ranks 124th in net punting, Michigan ranks 17th. Nebraska ranks 90th in kickoff return defense, Michigan is 2nd. Nebraska is 119th in kickoff returns and 125th in punt returns while Michigan is 60th and 13th. See a pattern here? If this pattern holds, special teams could be the deciding factor if the game is close. Never underestimate the importance of special teams, and these glaring disparities between the two programs should be something to keep an eye on.