Posted by Adam Jacobi
NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: Its mobile quarterback can curtail his errant throws and open up easy passes with his running ability. Yes, Nebraska has a gifted option quarterback, but that doesn't mean that his passing skills are up to par with... Hang on a second. If this is Nebraska's key, then what's Michigan's...
MICHIGAN WILL WIN IF: Its mobile quarterback can curtail his errant throws and open up easy passes with his running ability. Glitch! We have a glitch!
In all seriousness, Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson aren't that similar as players, and the Nebraska and Michigan offenses are fundamentally dissimilar as well. While Nebraska doesn't run an offense heavy on wishbone or I-formation triple option like the days of yore, it does utilize heavy amounts of read option between Martinez and Rex Burkhead. Martinez is also being trusted to throw the ball more often, and he's been improving in that facet over the last couple weeks.
Still, Martinez is most dangerous as a runner at this point, and if you give him a lane, he'll take it -- and Nebraska's downfield blocking is good enough that Martinez can potentially take that open lane for a score from any point on the field. Thus, the key for the Michigan defense is to get Martinez out of his comfort zone and force him to make split-second decisions to do something with the ball -- a pitch on the option, a check-down in his pass progression, a scramble to the outside when, say, Mike Martin blows up the front of the pocket. Those are situations that turn Martinez into a less effective player, and that's what defensive coordinator Greg Mattison needs to strive for.
On the other sideline, Nebraska's aims on defense should be different. Denard Robinson is a wonderfully gifted improviser with the football, so quite unlike Martinez, Nebraska should make sure Robinson doesn't have to make the split-second decisions. That's what he's good at! No, the lesson defensive coordinator Carl Pelini should have taken from Michigan's losses is that you don't give Robinson the edge; it's all contain, contain, contain, then funnel, funnel, funnel to the middle of the field. Lavonte David needs to have about 30 tackles in this game.
X-FACTOR: The tailbacks. Both Michigan and Nebraska also have hard-nosed running backs that will probably be getting 20 carries in this game -- Burkhead for Nebraska, and Fitz Toussaint for Michigan -- and while Burkhead's much more of a focal point of the Nebraska offense than Toussaint is, Toussaint is certainly capable of breaking a long run or two and getting over 100 yards. Both players are tough to bring down once they get a full head of steam, but Burkhead in particular is the kind of guy you need to bring down at the line or prior, or he's getting 5-10 yards and that drive's going to keep going. So if Michigan lets Nebraska move the point of attack, it might not be enough to just wait for Taylor Martinez to make a bad play or three.