Eyes on the Enemy: Nebraska

Football


On the college football page of ESPN, you have to scroll past twelve stories to find one about Saturday?s matchup between Michigan and Nebraska.

On the college football subreddit, the first discussion about the game is on page five, between threads about Army-Oklahoma and Tulane-Ohio State.

That is the prominence that Saturday?s game carries.



Twenty years ago, the two programs claimed a shared national title. Then, Tom Osbourne?s vaunted Cornhuskers making the trip to the Big House would have been among the biggest games of the year. It would be the equivalent of Clemson welcoming Ohio State to Death Valley or Oklahoma going into Bryant-Denny Stadium to play Alabama.

Now, it?s a forgotten back-burner even on a subpar weekend slate.

Nebraska hasn?t won a conference title since 1999 and the Wolverines? most recent came in 2004. From 1969 to 1997, they went 29 years without a four-loss season. They haven?t lost fewer than four since 2003.

Between 1968 and 2004, Michigan finished in the end-of-season AP poll all but once. It has missed out eight times since then.

In the buildup to Saturday?s game, the biggest story has been whether the Cornhuskers? freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez will be ready to play.

Really, though, it?s unlikely to matter. The Wolverines are favored by 17.5 for a reason, and that won?t change much if Martinez is declared healthy.

For all the critiques of the Michigan?s fall over the last decade, it has not fallen as far as Nebraska. While the Wolverines were dismantling subpar opposition over the last two weeks, the Cornhuskers lost to Colorado and Troy.

Scott Frost?s return brought optimism to Lincoln for the first time in recent memory, and Nebraska?s trajectory is still upward but for this season, it will likely struggle just to gain bowl eligibility.

That being said, the Huskers? start has not been as bad as losing to Colorado and Troy would suggest. They outgained the Buffs by 170 yards and the Trojans by 111 despite missing Martinez in the later.

Each game was winnable and in Martinez, Nebraska looks to have found an electrifying quarterback. He threw for just 187 yards, one touchdown, and a pick against Colorado but was a major threat on the ground, picking up 117 rushing yards and two scores.

If that raised your eyebrow, it should, because Michigan has displayed an inability to stop dual-threat quarterbacks through three weeks. Brandon Wimbush repeatedly found running lanes and William Brown picked up 48 yards on the ground after coming in at halftime last weekend.

Without Martinez, the Wolverines? defense should feast, like Troy?s did a week ago. But with him, it could be a staunch test of a beleaguered secondary and a defensive unit that committed 11 penalties against SMU.

Offensively will be a different story, which explains the 17.5 spread in favor of Michigan. The Huskers have flashed a solid run defense in their opening losses, but with Karan Higdon and Chris Evans both returning to practice this week, the Wolverines? running game should be potent regardless.

The bigger issue for Nebraska is a pass defense that allowed 351 yards and three scores to Colorado quarterback Steven Montez in week one. Coming off a pair of brilliant performances, Shea Patterson will look to replicate Montez?s showing.


His back shouldn?t look like that. (Photo by Andy Shippy)


Michigan’s biggest potential roadblock on the way to an easy win will be ? stop me if you?ve heard this before ? its offensive line. The Cornhuskers have recorded ten sacks so far, including 10 against Colorado.

As we saw against Notre Dame, the best way to stop Patterson is by penetrating his offensive line. The unit has repeatedly talked about its development since the Irish loss but Saturday will be the first real chance to back up the talk.

The Wolverines should win fairly comfortably on Saturday. But Nebraska?s mobile quarterback and strong pass rush is not a good combination for Michigan and a close game could be indicative of struggles down the line.

A win is the bare minimum. A big win? Well, for the first time in three weeks, that would mean something.

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