Originally written on MaizeAndGoBlue  |  Last updated 11/16/14
Read our preseason preview here. When Nebraska joined the Big Ten at the start of last season, the Cornhuskers were expected to compete for the Big Ten title right away. Instead, they went just 9-4 with three losses in the conference and a third place Legends division finish. Michigan handled the ‘Huskers easily in Ann Arbor, winning 45-17 and outgaining them 418 to 260. This season, Michigan has to travel to Lincoln for the first time in 101 years. It has traditionally been a tough place to play – Nebraska has won 18 of its past 20 home games including a come-from-behind win over Wisconsin last month. Michigan is just 3-3 on the road during the Brady Hoke era. How tough will the ‘Huskers be? Let’s take a look. Nebraska 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison Nebraska | Michigan Rank Opponent Rank Points Per Game 43.7 | 30.7 12 | 53 27.7 | 16.4 71 | 16 Rushing Yards 1,752 | 1,558 1,135 | 1,001 Rush Avg. Per Game 292.0 | 222.6 6 | 18 189.2 | 143.0 90 | 49 Avg. Per Rush 6.2 | 5.5 4.4 | 3.7 Passing Yards 1,292 | 1,279 1,067 | 996 Pass Avg. Per Game 215.3 | 182.7 58 | 106 177.8 | 142.3 10 | 4 Total Offense 3,044 | 2,837 2,202 | 1,997 Total Off Avg. Per Game 507.3 | 405.3 12 | 61 367.0 | 285.3 43 | 10 Kick Return Average 23.0 | 22.4 60 | 51 24.1 | 20.6 93 | 49 Punt Return Average 15.5 | 13.4 20 | 19 15.9 | 6.3 112 | 55 Avg. Time of Possession 30:13 | 30:38 54 | 53 29:47 | 29:22 3rd Down Conversion Pct 49% | 49% 35 | 18 34% | 35% 30 | 41 Sacks By-Yards 21-120 | 9-85 8 | 98 12-100 | 5-38 76 | 10 Touchdowns Scored 34 | 26 21 | 12 Field Goals-Attempts 8-13 | 11-13 6-10 | 10-15 Red Zone Scores (27-31) 87% | (23-26) 88% 19 | 23 (15-21) 71% | (16-19) 84% 28 | 73 Red Zone Touchdowns (22-31) 71% | (14-26) 54% (10-21) 48% | (9-19) 47% The main thing that jumps off the page is Nebraska’s defense. If you’ve watched any Nebraska games this season, it’s not hard to see that they’re not Alabama, Notre Dame, or Michigan State. The “Blackshirts” of old have been replaced by figurative redshirts. Bo Pelini’s squad is giving up nearly 28 points per game and ranks 90th nationally in rush defense, allowing 189.2 yards per game on the ground. The pass defense is good – 10th nationally – but much of that is a result of a very weak non-conference schedule and the ability of opposing teams to run the ball down their throat. Taylor Martinez is dangerous with his arm and legs, quirky throwing motion or not The other item that pops out is special teams. Nebraska ranks 93rd and 112th nationally in kick and punt return coverage, respectively. Michigan’s return units have been pretty good – 19th nationally in punt returns and Dennis Norfleet is going to break a kick return sooner or later. In addition, Nebraska kicker Brett Maher has converted just 8-of-13 field goal attempts, though he does have a long of 54. Maher is also the punter and he’s averaging just 41.8 yards per punt, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten. Needless to say, special teams is a clear advantage for Michigan in this one. So what is Nebraska good at? Well, running the football, for one. Currently the nation’s sixth-best rush offense, Nebraska is led by a talented trio in Ameer Abdullah, Rex Burkhead, and quarterback Taylor Martinez. Two others, Imani Cross and Braylon Heard, each have over 30 carries and two touchdowns as well. Abdullah is the leader with 105 carries for 615 yards and seven touchdowns. Burkhead is the bruiser with 405 yards on 8.9 yards per carry, and three touchdowns, while the speedy Martinez (not Speedy Gonzalez) has 403 yards and six touchdowns. As a passer, Martinez has been much more efficient this season than last. He is completing 67 percent of his passes for 1,615 yards, 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Five receivers have caught 13 or more passes and nine different players have caught a touchdown pass. The offense is diverse and dynamic to say the least. But this is exactly the type of team that Michigan can beat. Michigan struggled with Alabama, Notre Dame, and Michigan State because all three had top-tier defenses. With the exception of the game against Alabama, who nobody in the country has been able to slow down, and the quirky offense of Air Force, Michigan’s defense has shut down everybody. We’ll get into this more later in the week. Despite a porous defense, Nebraska has been able to get to the quarterback quite a bit. The 21 sacks are 12 more than Michigan has recorded and have the ‘Huskers eighth nationally. Additionally, Nebraska’s defense has held opponents to just a 71 percent scoring rate in the red zone which is third in the Big Ten. So while Michigan should be able to move the ball quite well on the Husker defense, it will need to protect Denard, which it has been great at this season, and convert red zone opportunities. Fifteen years removed from the split national championship of 1997, Michigan looks to go into Lincoln and keep its Big Ten title hopes alive. Stay tuned the rest of the week for much more coverage.
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