The Big Ten season is finally here for the Michigan Wolverines as they face the Nebraska Cornhuskers this Saturday at 12pm at the Big House. It’s been a pretty rough start to the season for most of the conference. The Cornhuskers are having a much rougher go of things early in the season than the Wolverines are. They enter conference play winless, at 0-2 (their opener against Akron was canceled due to lightning) and with uncertainty surrounding the availability of starting quarterback and true freshman Adrian Martinez. New coach Scott Frost inherited what was expected to be a project, but a loss to Troy last week has the program at a low they were not expecting in his first season at the helm.
Offensively, Nebraska is a different team with Martinez behind center. If he’s able to go, which is up in the air and trending towards doubtful, the Cornhuskers are much more dynamic. His abilities on the ground open up a lot of what Frost likes to do on that side of the ball. If he’s out, sophomore Andrew Bunch will get the start. In a little over one game worth of action, he’s been a game manager and not much more. He’s averaging 6.3 yards per attempt, compared to 9.4 from Martinez, and has two touchdowns along with two interceptions. While Martinez is averaging over 7 yards per carry on the ground in 15 attempts, Bunch is averaging less than half a yard per carry on his 11 carries. The backs have been productive runners regardless of the quarterback. Greg Bell, Devine Ozigbo, and Maurice Washington all have 22 carries or more. Bell and Washington are averaging 6.2 and 5.7 yards per carry while Ozigbo has the team’s only rushing touchdown not to come from Martinez. In the passing game, it’s been Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman then a major drop off. They’ve combined for 50% of the team’s receptions and 61% of the receiving yards. Look for Michigan’s corners to rise to the challenge after an unremarkable game last week.
Defensively, Nebraska was expected to struggle coming into the season. New coordinator Erik Chinander came over from UCF with Frost and emphasizes creating turnovers and playing fast above all else. They currently rank 90th nationally in points against. Colorado threw at will in Lincoln in their first game while Troy was more effective on the ground in week 2 than anybody anticipated. Their one strength has been pressuring the quarterback. They have 10 sacks in 2 games with most of their pressure coming from the outside. OLB Luke Gifford leads the way with 5 TFL and 2.5 sacks while DE Freedom Akinmoladun has 2.5 sacks of his own. This will be a fair test for the Michigan line. With the question marks surrounding the health of Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, Michigan could lean on the arm of Shea Patterson more than they have to date. With how electric he’s been, that’s probably the team’s best choice to move the ball regardless of the health of the running backs. Given the quality Husker pass rush, he might need to make a few plays with his legs on Saturday, but the leash should be completely off.
This is a game Michigan should win. Nebraska will arrive ready to play after being stunned at home by Troy to fall to 0-2 but Scott Frost needs more time to get the Husker program to a point where they’re contending with a Top 25 team on the road. Shea Patterson has emerged as the Wolverines best player on offense and should play an even bigger role in this game. The offensive line faces quality Nebraska pass rush but they’ll meet the challenge well enough to allow for some big plays in the passing game. The availability of Adrian Martinez will have an impact on how close this game is, but shouldn’t make the difference between a win or a loss.
Matchup to Watch
Michigan front 7 vs Nebraska run offense. Nebraska’s best opportunity to move the ball and put the Wolverines on upset alert would be to control the game on the ground. Assuming Martinez is out, if Michigan stops the run, Nebraska will struggle to move the ball consistently.
Michigan 37, Nebraska 13