The season is quickly approaching. If you’re anything like me and do not live in Ann Arbor, then now is a great time to sit down with the schedule and figure out when it makes sense to make the joyous trek up north (north for me anyway!) to Ann Arbor. Not only do I wish I could make it up to Ann Arbor for every Michigan home game, but it’d be great to have a sportsbook at my fingertips as I would in Las Vegas (I use www.partycasino.com most of the CFB weekends when not in Vegas, which is typically every weekend).
At any rate, after a fantastic and redemptive 2011 season for Michigan fans, 2012 proves to be a season full of dramatics. Opening with the defending national champs will set the stage for what kind of team we are looking at for the 12 game regular season stretch. Beat Alabama – okay let’s have some fun, turn on ESPN, and watch them gush over Brady Hoke, Denard Robinson, and the rest of this Michigan team. Lose to Alabama? Well, it depends by how much and in what fashion.
Michigan’s coaching staff proved themselves enough last year, especially defensively, indicating that Michigan fans can once again raise up their expectations and not be completely let down a la 2007 or more recently 2010.
When was the last time you truly enjoyed a bowl season? 2003? Right, because it typically sucks a wad after losing the finale of the season to those fools in Ohio. No more, as beating Ohio is just one of things in life that is always worth reliving (hence some sweet vids below).
B1G Championship — # 13 Michigan State vs. # 15 Wisconsin
Root For: MSU (although if you can’t stomach the thought, it hopefully shouldn’t matter)
Why: A win by either should drop the loser behind Michigan. That goes for Sparty even though they beat Michigan since this would be there third loss. And who doesn’t like to see Sparty suffer? However, from a strength of schedule standpoint, it might be more helpful if Sparty wins, thus dropping Wisco and beefing up U-M’s SOS.
SEC Championship — #1 LSU vs. #14 Georgia
Root For: LSU to win in a rout
Why: While it probably doesn’t matter in terms of the BCS Championship, it does matter big time for Michigan. A Bulldog victory would be very bad. And even a close Bulldog loss could be troublesome. Thus, this is no time for Crazy Les to be on the sidelines. We need focused, grass-eating Les.
Now, enjoy your Friday my friends. Carve out a solid twenty minutes and watch the post-Ohio episode of Inside Michigan Football. Also, enjoy a little reminder that Michigan is once again on top of the rivalry with Ohio:
Let’s quickly look back to mid-October of 2011. As life would have it, Michigan started this season winning six straight. Michigan’s next 60 minutes were to be spent in East Lansing. At this point in the season we have no idea what this Michigan team is about, but Michigan was ranked 11th and undefeated. The talk on blogs and message boards is essentially edgy, with most Michigan fans showing a tinge of defensiveness – vaguely, with little conviction, talking about how this 2011 Michigan team is different than the previous quick-start versions under Rich Rodriguez.
Don’t forget, we’re talking about Michigan beating Ohio for the first time after seven straight years – seven straight years where the last week in November has been rude and nasty.
So, as Michigan fans, myself included, pull together half-baked theories on why this Michigan team wasn’t going to fold – there was the game against Michigan State looming. I had such a high level of excitement about the prospects of this team going 7 and 0 and beating a hated rival – that I assumed it just wasn’t going to happen and this Michigan team wasn’t quite … good. After Michigan lost by two touchdowns via blown opportunities and flat getting beat, my rhetoric was all-knowing. I knew this team was lucky to slip past Notre Dame and I became pessimistic about this team, Al Borges, and Denard Robinson. Six and 0 starts don’t do your psyche any favors as a fan — you get greedy and one loss is seemingly not acceptable at the time.
Save the Purdue win, Michigan’s loss to Iowa further solidified the rhetoric about this team, which was largely evidenced on the field, that his Michigan team just wasn’t very good and the record is indicative of a twinkie-soft schedule. As Michigan sat at 7 wins and 2 losses – I feared the final three games of the season could be brutal and we could be talking about a 7-5 Michigan team.
One week at a time – Michigan’s coaches, seniors, and underclassman proved something to the world of college football and to themselves. Ryan Van Bergen, Junior Hemingway, David Molk, Martavious Odoms, Mike Martin, Troy Woolfolk, Kevin Koger, Will Heininger, Mark Huyge, and Steve Watson took on the challenge of making a difference and changing the recent trend of failure. The seniors led Michigan into Illinois and largely dominated – yielding Michigan’s best road win of the season (Illinois has proven to be terrible actually, but it was big at the time!).
Two games left. Michigan blew out Nebraska and if it wasn’t for one of the worst performances by a reply official that I have ever seen (was he the same guy at Iowa, no?) – we’d most likely be talking about a double-digit win over Ohio.
Similar to the week leading up to the Michigan State game – I, along with Michigan fans worldwide, had uber-crazy excitement about the prospects of this Michigan team reaching the 10-win threshold, positioning itself for a BCS bowl game, and finally beating the monkey off the program’s back in beating Ohio. This time? This time, there was no other way it could be. Michigan was not going to be denied in front of nearly 115,000. For the first time since late 2003, Michigan gets to enjoy the rest of the college football season and actually be in the discussion – and actually might finish out the season as a top 10 team.
Going into the game – I knew that Michigan winning the game against Ohio – was the only way things could happen. The seniors have led the way in forming a team that has great chemistry, determination, and perseverance. A team, a group of seniors, that will be remembered for enduring the bad, wading through the bullshit, and seizing the incredible opportunity they, as a team, earned.
If you haven’t seen the predictor model I use for this post – you can go here for a little explanation of the methodology. The takeaway in doing this is more-so in regards to understanding how Michigan performs statistically versus its opponents – and what kind of picture it paints for the next game on the schedule. Predictions from a points standpoint in football are usually bogus because we are talking about football and points can come in different ways – so remember the takeaway!
Here’s the outcomes so far. “YPP” in the table is Yards, Points, and Predictions…
Mich Total O
Mich Total D
Green font is indicative of accuracy and red is the opposite. So, this week I’m putting parameters around what is accurate. If YPP is within 50 yards of Actual, it’s green. Also, if YPP is within 5 points, it’s green. If YPP is outside of 100 yards, it’s red. If YPP is outside of 10 points, it’s red. Black font is ‘ehh – not close not far off kind of thing.
Ohio State was at one point, 3 and 3 on the season. Ohio then proceeded to win it’s next three B1G games, two of which came at the hands of a ranked Illinois team and the vaunted Wisconsin team. People were begrudgingly talking about the potential looming division title for the once-maligned Buckeye team. After Ohio reached a 6-3 mark, they have proceeded to toss in a clunker at Purdue and lost a close one at home to Penn State.
Ohio was in the pits, crawled out, now they seem to be back in.
Michigan on D
As you can see – the below table speaks to when Michigan is on defense. The Ohio offense is producing an average of 315 yards per game – good for 108th(!) in the nation and last in the conference. On average, Michigan’s defense is holding opponents to 78.49% of their average production (the ‘average production’ metric does not include each opponents game vs. Michigan for a proper comparative analysis). Since the Purdue game, Michigan’s D has improved from 84.7%, to 83.01%, to just under 80% at 79.67% prior to the Nebraska stomp – now sitting at 78.49% before Ohio. To the table we go:
315 * 78.49% = 247 yards predicted (allowed by Mich. D / gained by Ohio O)
Michigan on O
Below, the offensive table. Michigan’s offense is averaging 434.50 yards per game, which is good for 34th nationally and 3rd in the conference. On average, Michigan’s offense is producing 115.87% of their opponents average allowed yards per game. Ohio’s defense is giving up 318.09 yards per game on average, which is good for 16th in the country. Ohio’s defense has somewhat been the rock that was supposed to steady this team and season. Same routine…
318.09 * 115.87% = 369 yards (Gained by Mich. O / Allowed by Ohio D)
Michigan’s yard per point measure currently sits at 13.28 yards per point scored this season, which has improved by .6 from 13.88 from a week ago.
369 yards / 13.28 = 28 points for Michigan
Ohio’s yard per point measure is 15.94 yards per point scored (11.43 in wins, 21.37 in losses).
It’s a…. It’s a Michigan Defense!!! How can you not continue to celebrate what is an absolutely jaw-dropping and stunning turn-around by the Michigan defense. This is now two weeks in a row where MZone said it all:
Are you getting tired of praising this defense yet? Me neither. Nebraska didn’t convert a third down until the third quarter. Sit back for a moment and try to wrap your head around that. Last year, U-M had the 110th ranked defense in the country (out of 120, in case you’re wondering). Last year, this defense gave up 35.2 points per game, 107th in the country. This year, Michigan has the #14 ranked defense in all the land and is giving up 15.6 per game, 6th best in the country!
Want a little more perspective? In its 13 games last year, Michigan gave up 458 points. Through 11 this season, they’ve surrendered 172. In other words, to equal the punchline that was 2010, Michigan would have to give up 144 points — in EACH of its remaining two games (OSU and the bowl).
Folks, that’s not improvement, it’s mind boggling. Because this wasn’t some talent-laden group coming back. It was, well, the 110th ranked unit in the nation.
Oh how great it is. Can’t believe it. But I love it. And I know you do too.
JG. Jeremy Gallon is quite alright. Gallon has been so consistent this season, that it’s a story that nobody really talks about anymore. Jeremy Gallon was not a fan favorite after his efforts on the field in 2010. Now? Now, Gallon is an effective punt returner, solid as a perimeter player, and uses his okay speed to gain good yards in the open field. This is what I’m sayin’ yo (via TTB):
Gallon isn’t exactly DeSean Jackson with the football in his hands, but he sure does have a way of gaining extra yards in the open field. Whenever he catches the ball, I expect at least a couple people to miss tackles.
I hear Gallon is top jokester on the team as well.
Michigan is so back, so back. Brady Hoke and that staff that he put together upon his hiring – have done a remarkable job with this team. Who in the hell would have thought that Michigan would be playing for a potential BCS at-large bid in it’s final game versus Ohio. From our friends at maizeandgoblue:
This year is different. While they still have a ways to go, Michigan has a talented team on both sides of the ball and last time I checked, Michigan has the #2 ranked recruiting class coming in for 2012. The fact that the Wolverines are 9-2 going into Ohio week is also exciting. This is the best record that Michigan has had going in to this game since 2006! Not only that, but Michigan also has an excellent chance of finishing the regular season with double-digit wins.
But seriously, what a great trend to have towards the end of the season. A Michigan team that is actually improving and not going backwards. Losing at Iowa led to a nerve racking mentally in pushing on to the final three games of the season. With two solid and rather dominant performances – there is no doubt this Michigan team is peaking in all three phases of the game. Michigan has an opportunity to improve it’s record to 8-0 at home.
Fitz Toussaint continues to be the bomb. I believe I’ve said this for three straight weeks now, or rather since the Purdue game. Toussaint is probably Michigan’s best back in a decade. Not to slight the production of Mike Hart, but Fitz has talent that Michigan hasn’t seen in a decade. This, from BWS:
Fitz Toussaint looks more and more like an NFL running back the more carries he gets. His lateral movement is incredible. There are only a few running backs in the country with a more effective cut than his. So long as he doesn’t fall in love with it and maintains it as a tool to run vertically, Toussaint is going to be the best Michigan running back in a long time.
After witnessing this guy of late, how could you disagree!?
Denard Robinson is … back? I hate to say it that way, because I know he never was gone. But, I say that Denard is back because he finally played against a worthy opponent and looked comfortable in the pocket, running the offense, and making decent to solid decisions. Denard played good enough to net himself his sixth career B1G player of the week honor. There were a couple plays, specifically on the 1st half-ending drive, where I thought Denard totally missed the running lane thus negating potential gains and points.
Trending: the not-so-good.
Memo to all Michigan fans worldwide:
Parts of my brain have gone into a deep freeze as of this past Saturday and I have zero input into this section. Michigan turned over a new leaf. Michigan has turned the pages, burnt the book, and is re-writing the pages in a new book. This a week that Michigan fans are to enjoy – as it’s absence has been annoying and shitty. A week that is full of hype. A week that is full of positive discussion in regards to coaching football, playing football, and team #132 at Michigan.
So, Michigan fans, I suppose some of you might want to talk about losing contain and allowing Nebraska to chunk out a 23 yarder, but I’m leaving it with the good. A good that Michigan fans haven’t had the fortune of enjoying for several years. A good that reflects forward and translates into a period of success and promise.
Hail. Go Blue. F%#&in’ beat Ohio.
Around the B1G
Unfortunately, Michigan State celebrates winning the division at the hands of the hapless Indiana Hoosiers by a score of 55-3. I had better programs to watch elsewhere – so I didn’t see any of this game, but it obviously wasn’t very close at any point in time. Indiana spotted Michigan State 17 points in the first quarter, where therein the game is over.
Penn State win in Columbus, 20-14. Ohio State was at one point, 3 and 3 on the season. Ohio then proceeded to win it’s next three B1G games, two of which came at the hands of a ranked Illinois team and the vaunted Wisconsin team. People were begrudgingly talking about the potential looming division title for the once-maligned Buckeye team. After Ohio reached a 6-3 mark, they have proceeded to toss in a clunker at Purdue and lost a close one at home to Penn State. Penn State’s performance is going to show Al Borges what he needs to do. Eleven Warriors indirectly elaborates:
Penn State rushed for 239 yards yesterday on 39 attempts. That’s 6.1 per carry. That’s gross.
Penn State rushed for 188 yards in the first half averaging 9.0 yards per carry. That’s like parachute didn’t open gross.
The most agonizing thing about PSU’s ground success was that it came in such large chunks and with no frills. The Lions ran right at the Buckeyes and too often holes five yards wide opened, the RB got to the 2nd level then easily outran the members of the back seven.
Beat Ohio. Do it already.
Wisconsin makes Illinois more miserable than they already were in a 28-17 ball game. Illinois continues it’s slide from a once promising season that started with six straight wins. From the AP:
Illinois outgained Wisconsin 301-285, but the turnovers — a fumble and three interceptions — combined with special teams mistakes doomed the Illini.
The Badgers scored on drives of 44, 39, 30 and 2 yards. Their first 14 points were set up by an Illinois turnover and a badly botched punt.
Not hard to see why Illinois lost and held a lighter to a golden opportunity at home.
Iowa beat Purdue 31-21. If you are a Michigan fan – this was a game that was the furthest thing from interesting. All I know is that Marvin McNutt had another huge day for Iowa and that’s about it for two of the B1G’s mediocre at best bowl teams. Check that – Purdue has five wins and will be shooting for bowl eligibility next week against Indiana.
Northwestern continues to turn it around in beating Minnesota on their home turf by a score of 28-13. Again, for Michigan fans, talk about a sleeper of a game. Nice to see Northwestern turn around their season and get to bowl eligibility.
So, what if you told me Michigan played late in November with a potential BCS bid on the line vs. a top 20 team – and won in dominating fashion by 28 points? I would have told you to GTFO, because you are playing with my emotions!
Michigan came out on Saturday and took it to Nebraska in all three phases of the game in the aforementioned manner, dominating fashion – netting its first win over a ranked team in this fine season. This is the type of game that Michigan hasn’t been capable of producing for years – a straight beat down of a top 20 opponent. It wasn’t a shootout. It wasn’t a struggle. It was pure domination on offense, defense and special teams.
I want to repeat that, because it’s been so long since it’s been said: it was pure domination on offense, defense, and special teams. Ok, I’m good now.
Michigan’s defense, once again, showed up and further solidified the new-found perception that the unit might be amongst the best in the country(!). Nebraska had only eleven first downs, less than 300 total yards, and was 3-13 on third downs. On top of that – Michigan notched in six tackles-for-loss, three sacks, three fumble recoveries, and a blocked punt. The team in red reached the red zone twice all afternoon. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska’s bruiser who averaged 107 yards per game coming into Saturday, could only muster 36 yards on the outing.
Michigan outgained Nebraska 418 to 260 and did some serious work in the time of possession department – possessing the ball for 41 minutes versus the Cornhuskers’ 19 minutes. As Brady Hoke would tell you – your team’s best defense is when it’s offense is possessing the ball and working the game clock.
Before I drop in the box score – I feel obligated to say something about my disdain for Urban Meyer and Chris Speilman. Do you feel like, just a little bit, the quality of our color commentators and announcers are like, terrible? The vast majority of the first half was a play-by-play over-analysis of Denard’s play, how he should be coached, how he should play, etc. Urban and Spielman have this weird thing going on where they both agree with each other and it takes the topic to a level of exhaustion – and it never seems to be an easy listen. That’s all. Thank you. Bye bye now.
FIRST DOWNS................... 11 24
Rushing..................... 7 14
Passing..................... 4 6
Penalty..................... 0 4
NET YARDS RUSHING............. 138 238
Rushing Attempts............ 31 61
Average Per Rush............ 4.5 3.9
Rushing Touchdowns.......... 1 4
Yards Gained Rushing........ 162 271
Yards Lost Rushing.......... 24 33
NET YARDS PASSING............. 122 180
Completions-Attempts-Int.... 9-23-0 11-19-1
Average Per Attempt......... 5.3 9.5
Average Per Completion...... 13.6 16.4
Passing Touchdowns.......... 1 2
TOTAL OFFENSE YARDS........... 260 418
Total offense plays......... 54 80
Average Gain Per Play....... 4.8 5.2
Fumbles: Number-Lost.......... 4-3 0-0
Penalties: Number-Yards....... 8-73 5-45
PUNTS-YARDS................... 6-276 4-147
Possession Time............... 18:39 41:13
Third-Down Conversions........ 3 of 13 8 of 18
Fourth-Down Conversions....... 0 of 2 1 of 1
Red-Zone Scores-Chances....... 1-2 5-5
Touchdowns.................. 1-2 4-5
Michigan: On Offense
So, when you can do the following and limit massive errors elsewhere, you are going to position your team to win the game:
More than double up your opponent on first downs. Michigan had the edge 24-11
Out rush your opponent by 100 yards, while running 30 more run plays (!) than your opponent
Out gain your opponent 418 to 260
Win the possession battle in killer fashion – 41 minutes for Michigan, 19 for Nebraska. Damn
Convert 8 of 18 third down conversion and dialing up success on one 4th down effort (this was the fake field goal that Drew Dileo made)
Al Borges called a great game – and seems to have a solid grasp on what is working and what is not. Notice, Devin Gardner didn’t take a single snap before Denard Robinson’s day was over.
Denard Robinson [11-18 - 180 yards - 2 TD's, 23 rush - 83 yards - 2 TD's] I thought Denard played great, outside of a few errant throws and missed running lanes. Seeing Denard miss those running lanes was different – usually Denard tends to have decent vision. Perhaps his vision improves the further he gets upfield – as it seems any vision mishaps happen near the line of scrimmage.
All in all, Denard will grade out well.
Jeremy Gallon [3 rec - 34 yards - 1 TD] Is Gallon not just a joy to watch at this point? In the punt return game – Gallon is looking solid as ever making decisive decisions and cuts. There was the one punt he let go, but I’d rather see that than an oopsie happen back there.
I’m loving the screen play Borges typically calls when Michigan is nearing scoring territory. So far, Michigan is running the play well and to success. Gallon is sure handed and doing what he needs to do after the catch.
Fitz Toussaint [29 rushes - 138 yards - 2 TD's - 4.8 ypc] This guy impresses more and more as the season presses on. Fitz has a knack for turning absolutely zero running room into something positive and really seems to be in a good groove. The dude is a lot of fun to watch right now and it’s crucial that he gets greater than twenty carries next week against Ohio.
Worthy of mentioning Martavious Odoms: he is certainly making an impact on the field of late. Tae O is solid and is sure-handed – his catch in the back of the end-zone was a thing of beauty. Great concentration from Odoms on that catch.
Junior Hemingway: Junior is playing very well right now. He’s more fun to watch with the ball in his hands than he would ever get any credit for.
Roy Roundtree: great catch on the 3rd and 9 play during the first quarter. The contact was not intentional, good no-call, and Roy managed to pull it in while falling to the ground. I’m not going to be shocked if he comes up with a big game next week.
Michigan: On Defense
Seriously, did you think it was possible to have this much fun watching Michigan football in 2011? A team that got annihilated all last season – is now ranked 14th in the nation in total defense (316 yds/game) and 8th in the nation in scoring defense (16.2 pts/game). It is one of the greatest single-season single unit turnarounds ever in the history of major college football. I’d like to know when the last time a unit has improved by nearly 100 freaking teams in total defense. Anybody know? Do share.
Jordon Kovacs said:
Coach Mattison is establishing an NFL defense here. We do a pretty good job of disguising and giving the quarterback something to think about. But the offense helps us a lot. Any time you’re not on the field as a defense, they can’t score too many points on you.
I’m on board with that. Let’s take a look see at what went right on D:
Allowed 260 yards
Recovered 3 out of 4 available fumbles
Held Nebraska to 3 out of 13 third-down conversions
Stopped Nebraska’s late scoring effort – where Neb missed on their only 4th down conversion attempt
Michigan held Nebraska to well below their season averages on offense. It was a thing of beauty. Greg Mattison is being touted as the best hire of 2011 – how could you not agree?
The entire defense. The group is playing so solid as a unit – I’m wasting my time by calling out individual players. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were great – a continuing trend. JT Floyd and Blake Countess played spectacular – that is a continuing trend. Kovacs was witnessed in the Nebraska backfield notching another TFL – also a continuing trend. Jake Ryan continues to play in all out beast-mode. I even saw Troy Woolfolk get in on a pass break up!
The entire defense is playing very well right now.
Choppin’ It Up is a Q & A feature with a fellow blogger repping Michigan’s upcoming opponent. This week, Darren of Nebraska blog Big Red Network came over to MGoFootball to chop it up. Big thanks to Darren for filling us Michigan fans in on what we don’t know about this week’s opponent.
Given the relative insanity in regards to the situation in Happy Valley last week, how’d this team come out and play? I saw Nebraska jumped to a 17 point lead, then won by 3…
In a word – resolved. They handled an environment that was so strange it bordered on the macabre. I suspect it is hard to get up for a game that follows a strange quasi-funeral. Credit to the coaching staff for A) focusing the team and B) appropriately addressing the moment before the game. Assistant coach Ron Brown is an FCA legend and absolute stud.
As far as the game itself, Nebraska had total control at 17-0. You are right, PSU stormed back to make it a game. Credit them for showing heart. To be fair to NU both PSU scores were set up by fairly fluky plays. The first came on a ball that could have just been as easily intercepted as caught. (500!) And the second was set up by a trick play (reverse throwback to the QB). So, yeah, NU outplayed PSU. I’m glad they didn’t mess around and lose the game.
To an outsider, this team is hard to figure out. Nebraska got beat badly by Wisconsin, then smoked Michigan State, then proceeded to let Northwestern steal one in Lincoln. How good is this team?
Well, yeah, I’d say you hit it on the nose with that string of games. The word “inconsistent” defines this squad. They have all the markings of a team that plays a lot of sophomores. And, several of their main senior leaders are all junior college guys. Their maturation as a team and becoming more consistent is really the story of the 2011 season.
To your question – this team has the ability to be VERY good. Consider this factoid – for a decade, NU didn’t beat a team ranked in the top 15. This year, they’ve beaten two. The talent quotient is high. When the game plan is good and they are focused, they can play with anyone. But, young teams sometimes fail to execute, and that leads to blowouts (Wisconsin) and games they shouldn’t lose (Northwestern). This is especially true for the Husker defense. Pelini’s schemes were tough for new and younger players to catch on to in the defensive back seven. When that group is playing well, the Blackshirts really click.
Let’s hear the wrap on Taylor Martinez. Given his struggles throwing the ball, is the offensive mindset run first with Burkhead, run second with Martinez, then pass when necessary?
Taylor Martinez is really improving as a quarterback, not just his passing but his overall decision making. My colleague Brandon did an excellent job outlining this as well as comparing him to Denard Robinson. Martinez’s steady improvement as a passer since the Wisconsin game is one of the best stories for the 2011 season so far.
Nebraska is a run-oriented attack. Burkhead is their best offensive player. Yes, they use Martinez extensively in the run game, both with the read option and the down-the-line options. But, by no means do they pass only as a last resort. In several games this year, Nebraska has actually come out of the gate throwing. Teams who load up against the run find Nebraska very willing to throw.
Martinez still has genuinely awful mechanics, but he’s been able to get the ball out. Here’s the thing – Nebraska has legit play makers at receiver and tight end. Kenny Bell and Kyler Reed are fast. They need to get the ball. Martinez’s completion percentage would actually be significantly higher if his receivers didn’t let him down and drop the ball (especially against both Minnesota and Penn State).
What’s Nebraska’s greatest position strength? Greatest weakness?
It’s not really a matter of position strength as it is a matter of depth and experience. It’s kind of a catch 22 for NU right now. NU’s best defensive player is a linebacker, Lavonte David. And, Will Compton has steadily improved. So, its a strength, right? The problem is they are very weak/thin at linebacker after those two. The same could be said for the secondary. Alfonzo Dennard is a stud, and they all feed off of him. At times, they play well. At others, they are very suspect. It’s the same story at running back – a strength because Burkhead is stud, potential weakness because it’s only freshman behind him. When he got nicked up against Northwestern, it hurt the offense a lot.
As far as a a true strength for NU, I can’t overstate how much quality special teams play has helped the Huskers so far this year. Brett Maher’s punting was important last week. He’s done a great job as a kicker this year too. The NU return game has been strong too. That’s the stuff that quietly helps win games.
For Michigan fans that haven’t seen Nebraska play, who are the impact players on both sides of the ball to keep our eyes on?
On defense – just follow #4, David. He’s a joy to watch at linebacker. When he gets help and the defensive line plays well, he’s just a tackle machine always around the ball. Dennard also merits watching. He makes them go in the defensive backfield. On offense, it the Burkhead show. #22 is already a living legend among Husker fans. He is as gutsy as he his talented. The Husker receivers have been hot and cold. If they get rid of the drops, they have athletes that can make plays. Kenny Bell (#80) and Kyler Reed (#25) are players that can knife a defense.
Feel free to throw all objectivity out the window here – how does a Nebraska vs. Michigan game play out in 1997?
Speaking for all Nebraska fans, I can say without a doubt that I would have liked nothing more than to have that title decided on the field. People who hate the BCS need to remember the angst and debate caused by split titles. Nebraska would win, and it might not have even been a very competitive game. Consider that Nebraska demolished #3 ranked Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl to finish the season while Michigan struggled to beat Washington State 21-16 in the Rose Bowl. That year, Tennessee was quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. Washington State was quarterbacked by Ryan Leaf. Just saying…
It’s easy for Michigan fans to say that their defense would have kept that game competitive. Woodson won the Heisman and all that. But, that 1997 Husker defense was ridiculously loaded. Eight of the eleven defensive starters played in the NFL. The offense was loaded with Frost at quarterback and Ahman Green at I-back. Nebraska was a complete team and would have won the head-to-head match up. Of course, that’s something we would have all liked to have seen.
Finally, how do you see things playing out this Saturday? Predictions are welcome…
I’m not too optimistic for Nebraska, honestly. You’ve already noticed their inconsistency. Can they stay dialed in and perform at a high level for two weeks in a row? Nebraska is also very banged up along both the offensive and defensive lines. That’s not good. Northwestern’s Kain Colter ran all over Nebraska on designed quarterback runs. That’s not good a good sign if they somehow expect to slow down Robinson. Throw in the fact that it is being played at the Big House, and I get downright skeptical. Nebraska will have to play mistake-free football, win big on special teams and get some turnovers from Michigan if they want to have a chance. Let’s say all of that happens…Huskers win 34-31 on a last-minute field goal.
I also just want to say that as Nebraska fans, we are all taking a moment to step back and appreciate what it is to be in the Big Ten conference. Yes, playing this schedule has been a challenge. But, to play against iconic programs like Michigan is a real joy. We’re happy to be in the league, and looking forward to exciting games for many years to come.