Can Devin Gardner and the Wolverines rebound?
Bo Pelini and the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to Ann Arbor to face off against Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines in this conference battle at the Big House at 3:30 pm ET on ABC. The emotional states of Nebraska and Michigan players could not be more different after last week. The Cornhuskers beat Northwestern on a Hail Mary pass from Ron Kellogg III to Jacob Westerkamp as time expired. On the other hand, the Wolverines scored six points and put up just 168 yards of offense against bitter in-state rival Michigan State. The loss dropped Michigan out of a position to play in the Big Ten Championship, while Nebraska stayed alive in the Legends Division of the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers will once again be without starting quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is now battling a hip pointer and a shoulder injury, after being sidelined for two games earlier this season with turf toe.
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That's the amount of rushing yards Michigan had last week against Michigan State. It's the lowest rushing output in the program's lengthy history. Gardner had -46 rushing yards thanks in large part to the fact that the NCAA counts sacks as negative rushing yards. On the designed runs for Gardner, he rushed 11 times for three yards, including four negative rushes. Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for just 20 yards on eight carries. Michigan only had five rushing attempts in the second half, and the only drive the Wolverines moved the ball into Michigan State territory in the second half ended with a Devin Gardner interception. Perhaps they can revitalize themselves on the ground against a Nebraska defense that allowed Northwestern RB Treyvon Green to rush for 149 yards and three touchdowns and QB Kain Colter to rush for 86 yards.
Offensive Line Play
After last week, many believe that the proud tradition of a strong offensive line hasn't been lived up to this year at Michigan. While they did struggle last week in allowing Devin Gardner to be sacked eight times, outside of that game, Michigan has only allowed 12 sacks in seven games. The Wolverines are led by All-American tackle Taylor Lewan and, while they have had some issues with chemistry and communication, this is still a talented bunch capable of shutting down an opposing pass rush. Where the Michigan line has struggled has been in opening holes in the run game. The Wolverines are 10th in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging just 154.9 yards per game. The Cornhuskers don't have as a talented of a front seven as Michigan State; however, they have some nice pieces that could cause Michigan some problems. Look for an impact from defensive end Randy Gregory, a versatile 6'6" end that has recorded three sacks in the last three games. Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis loves to move Gregory all around the field and will do so often to keep him from being matched up with Lewan. If Lewan is able to contain Gregory, then Nebraska will need its leading sacker, freshman Avery Moss, to make some big plays. In the other camp, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has to be licking his chops at the idea of sending pressure on a vulnerable Nebraska line. The Cornhuskers were severely hurt by the injury to All-Big Ten guard Spencer Long and will be forced to shuffle things even more with the recent injury to the other guard Jake Cotton. Both injuries have forced inexperienced players to grow up fast and are a large reason why Nebraska allows nearly four and a half sacks per contest.
Freshman quarterback at The Big House
Michigan Stadium is the largest stadium in the United States with a capacity of 109,901. That's no easy atmosphere for an experience quarterback to undertake, much less redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. Armstrong has experienced nothing like the road atmosphere in Ann Arbor as his only road start in his career came against Purdue. In that game he went six for 18 for 43 yards and three interceptions. It was the first of two straight games in which the young quarterback has thrown three interceptions. Nebraska has won just seven of 15 games away from Lincoln since the start 2011, while the Wolverines are undefeated at home under Brady Hoke.
Key Player: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
This junior has been beyond impressive in 2013. He currently ranks sixth in the entire nation in rushing yards with 1,108 and is second among top 15 rushers with a 7.1 yards per carry average. Abdullah has gone over the 100-yard mark in seven of his eight games this year, including a 225-yard performance against Illinois. His only game under 100 yards? That was when he rushed for 98 yards on 23 carries against UCLA. He's averaging nearly 161 rushing yards per game in Big Ten play. Last year against the Wolverines, Abdullah rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Michigan's offense looked terrible last week. But then again, so did Nebraska and Tommy Armstrong Jr. The Cornhuskers may have gotten a win, but they did against a Northwestern team that hasn't won a game since September 21. Let's chalk Michigan's struggles up to the stifling Michigan State defense. Nebraska doesn't have anything close to resembling what Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have built in East Lansing; however, they do have the nation's No. 4 ranked pass defense. Nebraska wins this game if they can pounce on Michigan early with a turnover, get a quick lead and take the air out of the ball the rest of the game. Forget it. Devin Gardner and the Wolverines are too tough at home and they offense that scores 37.9 points per game will show up in full force.
Prediction: Michigan 31, Nebraska 20