Did anyone have a matchup between the Michigan Wolverines (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) and Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-3, 1-2) in Week 6 circled on their calendar, let alone in prime time, coming into the season?
The No. 9-ranked Wolverines are coming off a dominant 38-17 victory in Madison last weekend, where they hadn’t won in two decades, limiting Wisconsin to just 210 yards of total offense and a season-low 43 yards on the ground. "Against a tough, physical team, I thought our team played really physical," said head coach Jim Harbaugh. "We matched it every bit."
Michigan will look to remain unbeaten with another road test this week against a Nebraska team trending upwards following a 59-7 blowout victory over Northwestern. Coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Oklahoma and Michigan State, the Cornhuskers put together their most complete performance of the year, producing 657 yards of total offense, the most by the team in nearly two years. Most importantly, after consecutive mistake-filled losses, Scott Frost's team didn’t turn the ball over once.
No. 9 Michigan at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Michigan -3
When Michigan Has the Ball
Who saw that coming? Leading 13-10 at halftime, the Wolverines blew the doors open in the second half, with the passing game showing some life as Cade McNamara completed 17 of 28 attempts for 197 yards and two touchdowns to No. 1 receiver Cornelius Johnson. As expected, facing the top rush defense in the country, the duo of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins was bottled up for much of the day, and the Wolverines averaged just 2.5 yards per carry but made just enough plays to keep the sticks moving. One wrinkle that we could see more of moving forward — the staff made it a point of emphasis to get 5-star freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy involved on the ground, where he scored a touchdown on Saturday on a QB sneak right outside the goal line.
Saturday night will present another challenge to the Wolverines on the ground, where Nebraska has shored up some of its defensive issues since the opening month. The Huskers have held both Michigan State and Northwestern to under 75 rushing yards in the last two games. McNamara and his collection of receivers will be counted on again to make some plays downfield to keep opposing defenses from loading the box against them.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Michigan’s running game saw plenty of headlines in the month of September, but Saturday’s matchup will feature the top two rushing offenses in the Big Ten. Nebraska had a season-high 427 yards on the ground against Northwestern last Saturday with seven rushing scores, putting the Cornhuskers at 20 on the season, which is good for second in the nation behind Air Force, which runs the triple option. Spearheading the attack is quarterback Adrian Martinez, who ran for a career-best three touchdowns against the Wildcats and is 15th in the country in total offense at 312.5 yards per game. Redshirt freshman running back Rahmir Johnson has filled in admirably in the backfield due to injury over the last two weeks, averaging over five yards per attempt, and found paydirt twice last Saturday.
If Nebraska is to pull off the upset, it will have to win the battle in the trenches against a Michigan defense that piled up six sacks against Graham Mertz and has limited opponents to just 3.31 yards per carry this season. The Cornhuskers made some personnel changes to the offensive line against Northwestern, and it worked for at least one week, not allowing a single sack and just one QB hurry. On the year, Nebraska still ranks 121st in sacks allowed (18).
Some will consider this a trap game for the Wolverines, heading on the road, in prime time, coming off their best performance of the season with the bye week looming. A so-called "trap-game" typically entails an unmatched team on one side, though, and Nebraska has shown the last four weeks or so that it is far better than its early showing against Illinois. The improved rush defense from the Cornhuskers will force Michigan to make some plays again through the air, but the advantage in the trenches should be the difference here, where the Wolverines have the edge on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Michigan 27, Nebraska 24
Podcast: Week 6 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.