Well, the hopes of a bowl game are back on the table, but now comes the toughest challenge Matt Rhule has faced as a coach. Reigning Big Ten champ Michigan comes to Lincoln. Michigan has one of the best combinations of QB-RB-WR in the Big Ten having the league leader in touchdowns in each category. The stout Husker’s defense will certainly have its hands full with the best team it will face all season. However, coming off back-to-back wins there is some hope. The Blackshirts will have to keep up their excellent form and the offense will need to play turnover-free football if the Huskers hope to pull off the upset.
The state of the quarterback position for Michigan and Nebraska couldn’t be much further apart. J.J. McCarthy, the former five-star, leads the Big Ten in completion percentage, touchdowns, and passer rating. The combination of Jeff Sims and Heinrich Haarberg is 13th in completion percentage, 7th in touchdowns, and 14th in rating per Sports Reference. McCarthy has thrown three interceptions this season. The Huskers are going to have to put pressure on McCarthy against a talented Michigan offensive line that’s only allowed 3 sacks on the season.
Whoever gets the start at QB for the Huskers is going to run the ball. Over the last decade, only ten teams have had the QB be responsible for a more significant percentage of its team’s total rushing yards than the rate the Huskers are currently on. I’ve gone on the record saying the team should be less reliant on the QB run game, but I’m finally relenting. The old-school option attack may give the Husker’s ground game a chance for a big play while lowering the risk of a turnover. Sims and Haarberg have both displayed good speed in the open field. Nebraska leads the conference in rushing and will need to continue through this week to help keep an explosive Michigan offense off the field.
Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards are among the best running back duos in the Big Ten. The Huskers rush defense has been the best in the conference through a third of the season. If the Huskers want to have a chance in this game, they need to win this battle. Forcing Michigan to pass will be an opportunity for more havoc plays from a good Husker’s pass rush that could create turnover opportunities.
Michigan is a great team. Nebraska in recent history has not done well against great teams. Most fans are sick of moral victories after a historic run of close losses, but a moral victory here could be huge for this team. Nebraska is forming an identity of running the ball and being able to stop the run. If it can maintain this identity while staying competitive against Michigan, the team should have the confidence that it can do the same thing against a weak division.