Nebraska has completely failed expectations yet again this year. They made a step in the right direction by firing Scott Frost just three weeks into the season following a loss to Georgia Southern. They are 2-4 since then, including dropping three consecutive games to Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota. They have to win out to be bowl eligible.
That means this week against Michigan, the Huskers are playing for their lives. Unfortunately, it looks like they will be without their quarterback, Texas transfer Casey Thompson, due to injury. There are still a few diamonds in the rough on the Nebraska roster and if they want to keep things close, the following players are going to have to stand out.
RB Anthony Grant
The Big Ten is stacked with great running backs, and Anthony Grant is certainly in that conversation. He is top-five in the conference in rushing yards (858) and attempts (177). The downfall is he averages just 4.8 yards per carry.
The junior is the focal point on offense, especially without Thompson under center. Last week Grant had 21 carries for 115 yards, the best day he’s had since a Week 4 win over Indiana. He’s going to need a special performance against one of the top run defenses in the nation in order to keep this game close.
Grant’s a really physical back that wears you down throughout a ballgame. Look at this play in the Rutgers game:
He’s a stocky 5-foot-11, 200-pound back who has been a difference-maker in every game the Huskers have kept close.
Michigan’s physicality up front is like nothing the Huskers have seen this season, and the Wolverines should be able to make him a non-factor in this game. But if they don’t, this game could become closer than it should be.
WR Trey Palmer
In any game that has been a shootout this season, wide receiver Trey Palmer has been the guy the Cornhuskers have targeted. If Michigan slows down Grant in the run game, expect Palmer to get a ton of targets.
In the loss to Purdue a few weeks back, Palmer put up video game numbers with eight touches for 297 total yards and two touchdowns. On the year, he accounts for one-third of Nebraska’s receptions and receiving yards. We all have seen these Michigan corners get burned on the deep ball over the past few weeks, and Palmer is the guy to watch out for in that department:
Since the Purdue game, an emphasis has been placed on the Cornhuskers wideout as he has had just six receptions for 38 yards in the last two games. A fresh quarterback will not help Palmer’s case. Still, he’s a guy Michigan will have to slow down to ensure victory.
Edge Garrett Nelson
Rutgers brought the physicality up front last Saturday on passing downs and J.J. McCarthy took a beating because of it. If there is one guy on this Nebraska defense who can keep that going, it’s junior Garrett Nelson.
Nelson is the heart and soul of their defense. In Nebraska’s three wins this season, the Husker’s edge rusher has had a combined 22 tackles and all of his 4.5 sacks. The problem is that he hasn’t kept that production consistently. Those 22 tackles in wins amount to half of his tackles this season. In the six losses, he has a total of 23 tackles.
Michigan’s offensive tackles have both been banged up this season, and left tackle Ryan Hayes just missed last week against Rutgers. Jeffrey Persi was excellent in relief and may have to do so again against another talented rusher if Hayes isn’t ready to return.
A bounce back game from the passing blocking is due for the Wolverines and they will need to show they can tighten things up before heading to Columbus in a few weeks. A strong performance against Nebraska will help build some confidence before The Game.