The Michigan Wolverines and Nebraska Cornhuskers will go a long way toward settling the Big Ten Legends Division race on Saturday in Lincoln. The winner has the inside track — not to mention the head-to-head tiebreaker — on the conference championship game.
Both teams are coming off hard-fought wins last week: Michigan over rival Michigan State, Nebraska at Northwestern.
Who has the edge Saturday? We take a closer look in this week’s Big House Breakdown:
Michigan’s Key to Victory: Put Denard Robinson in position to succeed.
Michigan’s game against Alabama? Disastrous. The Wolverines’ trip to Notre Dame? Maybe even worse. In both cases, Robinson did not take care of the football — particularly in that very winnable game against the Irish, in which he turned it over five times.
He’s taken care of the football much more effectively since then, partially due to Michigan’s game plans. Offensive coordinator Al Borges even admitted to playing it close to the vest against Michigan State, a strategy that nearly backfired on the Wolverines in a close 12-10 victory.
Michigan has to stay out of 3rd-and-long situations, especially on the road in front of what promises to be a noisy crowd. Robinson does his best work when the play calling is unpredictable, especially as it relates to how Borges lets Robinson go to work.
Nebraska’s Key to Victory: Pound the rock.
Even though Taylor Martinez (somehow) leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency, you don’t have to tell Nebraska twice to run the football. Even with Rex Burkhead banged up and questionable for Saturday night, the Cornhuskers still have athletic RB Ameer Abdullah (615 yards, seven touchdowns) plus the freestyling Martinez.
Michigan did a great job against Le’Veon Bell and Michigan State last week, but if you go back to the start of the year, both Alabama and Air Force punished the Wolverines up front. If Nebraska establishes Abdullah and its ground game early, it could be a long night for the Wolverines.
Players to Watch: Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Nebraska’s Will Compton.
Nebraska has rarely been tested through the air this season. Michigan does not look like a team to change that, at least on paper. That said, Robinson will have to air it out at some point — the earlier, the better if Borges is serious about opening things up a little this week — and Gardner could be the key. The Wolverines’ passing attack is limited in its playmakers. But Gardner can get deep.
Compton is Nebraska’s leading tackler and he’ll be the one in the crosshairs the most when it comes to trying to shut down Robinson and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Michigan’s offensive line has done a decent job blocking offensive D-lines, but linebackers have had success blitzing and stopping the Wolverines. Compton will lead the charge for Nebraska there.
Prediction: It’s hard to predict a game like this, when so much of the outcome figures to depend on two quarterbacks that can be inconsistent and turnover-happy. Both teams will try to establish the run; both defenses will go out of their way to force the pass.
This should be an entertaining ballgame won in the trenches — traditional Big Ten football. Give the edge to Nebraska at home.
Nebraska 24, Michigan 21