This saying may be familiar to many of you, but it reminds me a lot of what we will be facing on Saturday against Michigan…
To date, our wins have came against teams that haven’t really had a pulse against us in Fordham, Buffalo, and Northwestern. That is not to discount those wins at all, we made them look remedial. But I am throwing a bit of caution before heading into the contest against Michigan. Everything is really easy for Frost and Lubick with play calling when our OL is moving people. Everything is really easy for our players when you are playing confused/inferior football players. So now all of a sudden that punt isn’t quite as stressful. You don’t have to hold or get a quick jump that possibly results in a false start, etc. All of the things that haunted us the previous 3 years and first 5 games of 2021 seemed to really fade away against Northwestern. It was easy.
The Northwestern game reminded me a bit of 2019 Maryland where we won 54-7. We only had one penalty in that game, and the Blackshirts accumulated 6 sacks against the Terrapins. It had a lot of the same feels as this win against Northwestern did, because that victory put us one shy of being bowl eligible heading into our final contest. In fact, a common theme for me is “guess which year this tweet was made”. Here’s one that I wouldn’t be able to tell if it was after Maryland 2019 or Northwestern 2021 if not for stating the opponent.
Heading into Northwestern, the Cornhuskers were 3-10 against Power 5 competition since the 54 -7 wood shedding of Maryland that everyone “saw coming”. The merry-go-round myself and other fans have done this year alone is crazy, let alone the past 3.5 years. In the spring we are told our OL depth is best it’s ever been and we have 9 guys to choose from, our offense would be potent, and everything just “feels different”. We get a massive humble pie sent our way starting 0-3 against our first 3 P5 opponents, our offense looks awful including our OL, and people start saying “i’m not falling for those lines ever again” and on down the list. Then Northwestern happens, and the merry-go-round circles back around to spring feelings of “I knew we were close, everything just had to click with a few changes” and it’s almost like we are fooled again. Here’s what i’m getting at: What we saw this past Saturday was what our coaches have seen every practice with our team going against our scout players, and it is why you saw such confidence and bravado from our staff when talking before basically every season or even some games we lost. Is it a false sense of being good after one game to an inferior opponent? Or did we finally figure things out?
So let’s go back to the start of this preview and Mike Tyson. Good job beating up on Buffalo and the nerds from Evanston, but what is going to happen when we get punched in the mouth? Because it’s coming. Michigan is undefeated, the #5 team in the country, and they think this is their year. Basically every game in this staffs tenure where we were punched in the mouth and shown some adversity, we have crumbled. We’ve destroyed teams like Maryland and Northwestern. Heck, even year 1 with “horrible Riley culture” we assaulted Minnesota, Illinois, and Bethune-Cookman. What are Lubick and Frost going to do when Michigan’s defense isn’t lost on every play like Northwestern was? How will our OL respond when the Wolverine front 7 aren’t getting moved as easily?
According to 247sports, Michigan is ranked 15th in the country in college team talent. Oklahoma was 6th, Michigan State was 37th, and Illinois was 52nd. The teams we have beat were 45th (Northwestern), 122nd (Buffalo), and NR (Fordham since they aren’t FBS). This will be a true test of if we have really turned the corner, or if last Saturday was more of the same. Beat up on poor teams/scout team, talk about how we’ve turned a corner and it’s different now, then go out and lose. The time is now to pivot the ship.
New faces on offense:
Prochazka, Nouilli, and Yant all emerged against Northwestern on Saturday and it was a welcome surprise. We had to do something different because our offense before Saturday was actually the worst it has been this century in producing points. Yes, worse than 2009 where Bo just played ball control. My apologies for remaining skeptical, but for me I think if it would have been the first start for Benhart and Piper/Hixson/Bando you probably would have seen the same along the OL. Northwestern was just so lost it almost didn’t matter how technique was or even if you got your block. People don’t understand how hard it is to play as a true freshman along the lines in Power 5 football, yet somehow Prochazka had the best grade out of all OL that played against the Wildcats. I need to see that replicated. And again, would the new guys have had as much success against Sparty, the Sooners, or Illinois? I don’t know. I will say, Prochazka is a true freshman, so literally every practice where he gets reps he will get better and better. I want to see it against a defense with a pulse.
With that said, I will buy stock in Yant. I said in my Northwestern preview that our offense needed to use this game to get some RB over 100 yards and take pressure off Martinez for running the football. Yant provided that all night. He showed a bit more elusiveness than a guy like Stepp, and he showed more power than Johnson. While I think Rahmir may be our go to guy against the Wolverines when things get going, tough not to like this:
Now let’s get to the game, what do we expect from Michigan’s defense?
Michigan is 5th in the country defensively in points per game with 12.8 given up, and they are 9th in the country for yards allowed sitting at 284.6 while running a 3-4 like what Nebraska runs. Nebraska’s offense should literally just go up against our own defense to know what front they are going to be facing. For people who think that recruiting rankings matter, their DL according to rivals start a 5.8 four star, 5.9 four star, and 6.1 five star. In fact, their entire defense only has 3 starters on it that are lower than four stars according to Rivals.com, and that’s one corner and 2 linebackers. However, all 3 of those players are 5.7, which is the highest rated 3 star you can be. With that said, there has been a bit of success on the ground against the Wolverines. A bit is the operative word, they are still sitting 27th in the country with only 114 rushing yards allowed per game.
Startlingly, mighty Wisconsin only had 43 yards rushing against Michigan and only had 5 first downs on the ground this past Saturday. Now with that said, I actually like Nebraska’s rushing attack better with Martinez than I do the Badgers, but what I took from the game against Bucky is that Wisconsin’s OL could not get any movement against Michigan. What will that mean for our young OL? With our running QB, movement isn’t as paramount as it is for the Badgers. So that’s why i’m predicting more success and closer to 100-150 yards rushing for us. But Wisconsin returned everyone but 1 player from their 2020 OL. Michigan returned 7 starters defensively. Yet Wisconsin could get nothing going on the ground which usually leads to blowouts like what happened up in Madison this past Saturday. What will we do when we need to run the ball, and will we be able to? I expect a lot of QB run this game… A LOT. I just don’t see a day like what Yant had against Northwestern for our RBs. Martinez will shoulder a lot of the load. Rutgers actually had some success with their RBs against Michigan, I just see us doing a lot more of things like this:
But do we remember when we played Michigan State, and their DE/OLB was player of the week with something like 14 QB hurries. Michigan boasts a player just like him, who had similar success against Wisconsin, and will be going against true freshman tackle Prochazka or RS Freshman tackle Corcoran… is it cause for concern? And does Michigan think with that kind of mathcup they won’t need to blitz as much and they can get home with just their edge guys?
Michigan is going to try and confuse our young OL putting a ton of guys at the line of scrimmage and not letting us know where they are blitzing from. And they have the players to get home unlike Northwestern, Buffalo, or Fordham:
Even though Mertz got this off, he threw it to where there were just as many Michigan guys as his players. I expect this cat and mouse game to really get interesting. If you remember in previous game previews, our best running play before Northwestern has been called pass plays where Martinez scrambles. Does that scare Michigan into spying us instead of blitzing? If so, I like that for us. But Prochazka and Corcoran are going to be tested at the offensive tackle spot. This is the best DL we will see to date:
In that video, both DEs basically get home. Wisconsin couldn’t run so they were in passing downs nearly all game. If Nebraska can get 3 yards on first and second down, it will do wonders for not letting this ferocious pass rush pin their ears back. That will be the entire key.
Michigan knocked out Mertz for the game, and quite honestly if it was not for two fades that were completed at the end of the half for Wisconsin, the Badgers only touchdown would have been in garbage time of the 4th quarter. I am not sold on Wisconsin this year, and I think our offense is better, but I do believe this is one of the best defenses we will see all year. We need to have a great gameplan offensively, our OL needs to be buckled up, and Martinez needs to be on point. We will get some QB yardage, but the true barometer of if we can win this game will be if we can complete those 5-10 yard passes and if our RBs can get some yardage to take the pressure off Martinez. If we are in 2nd/3rd and long, it will be a long day (duh). But what i’m getting at, is 2nd and 7 even though that doesn’t seem great is much better than 2nd and 9. We need to get positive yardage on each down to make it 3rd and medium so we have the whole playbook at our disposal. Keep an eye early on if Michigan is taking Martinez away and giving our RBs the 3-4 yard gains, that will be the key. And we will know before the first quarter is over.
What about Michigan’s offense vs The Blackshirts
Michigan is kind of who you think they are. They are in a lot of 1 and 2 TE sets, and have a really sneaky shifty RB in Blake Corum to go along with Hassan Haskins. They are 8th in the nation in points per game, and they are 7th in the country in rushing yards per game. Michigan wants nothing to do with throwing the ball, as their QB has only made 81 pass attempts the entire year (Martinez is at 150) and their leading WR only has 10 receptions. They pride themselves on pounding the rock and not turning the ball over. However, Wisconsin who basically runs our same defense held them to only 112 yards rushing, and I like our defense just as much as the Badgers. Wisconsin actually had so much success shutting down the run game that Michigan had to rely on a play that may hurt some of your eyes, but this is how they took advantage of not being able to run and scored their first points of the game…. look familiar?
Wisconsin had Michigan in 3rd and long all day. And the Wolverines were only 6 of 19 on 3rd down conversions. But Harbaugh is doing something interesting this year and going for it quite a bit on 4th downs, where they were 4 of 5 against the Badgers.
Now, they ran a lot on 4th downs, but I used that clip to prove a point. Wisconsin absolutely shut down Michigan’s rushing attack, forcing the Wolverines to pass where they are 107th in the country in passing yards per game. Further, McNamara their QB just does not make bad decisions. Michigan is #15 in the country in turnover margin, and #2 in giveaways per game with .2. In fact, I think the only turnover Michigan has on the year is their 3rd string QB throwing an INT with 3 minutes left in the 4th quarter against Wisconsin. If the Blackshirts can force even one turnover, they have done an incredible job.
This matchup works out really well for us. Michigan didn’t do anything crazy in my eyes running the football, and Wisconsin shut them down. I anticipate more of the same from our defense. So the game will come down to how we defend the pass. because I anticipate 2nd and 3rd and longs for Michigan. And they are traditional in the sense that if they see us stuffing the run and playing man on the outside, they will just take shots. Here is their backup with a perfect ball:
CTB, Newsome, Clark, and our safeties need to be ready to go as this is a big game for them. With me predicting we will be stuffing the run, these corners need to be ready for shots like we just saw in that video.
Against Rutgers, Michigan was able to build a lead because they pushed the Scarlet Knights around. Take a look at this movement at the top of the line, does anyone think they will be able to get this kind of push against us? No shot.
The last thing I saw from Michigan that could be dangerous for us is they line up in a lot of unbalanced formations. A TE to a side covered up by the WRs. How do we line up to that? If you remember, the first 3 years with Chinander there was a lot of angst about not lining up correctly and in turn that creating gaps that weren’t accounted for. We absolutely can not do that against the Wolverines and still win. With a veteran defense, I don’t see that as much of an issue in 2021, but keep an eye on it.
I have to admit, the atmosphere was great against Northwestern. And it will be kicked up even another notch against Michigan. For those of you that didn’t see the new song between the 3rd and 4th quarter… it made the place rock:
If any of you remember the “No Sit Sunday” against Wisconsin for basketball, this needs to be that kind of atmosphere. I’ve never been impressed with Wisconsin’s atmosphere in Madison when I go there, and this will be the most intimidating environment that Michigan has played in since 2019. I think we can truly help set the tone and create some confusion to deliver an upset.
Nebraska’s PFI according to ESPN changed quite a bit with our drubbing of Northwestern. We are now predicted to go 6-6, with Wisconsin now turning to a “probable win”.
Michigan is probably the second most talented team we will face, and Nebraska is believing more now than they were when we played Oklahoma. Our problem has never been personnel, but believing, coaching, and discipline. Michigan destroyed us 56-10 the only other time Harbaugh played Frost while at Nebraska. And remember, Harbaugh has a bad taste in his mouth after what Frost stated when UCF got drilled by Michigan:
This is our chance to shut those tweets up. We matchup well defensively with what they want to do on offense, so it’s up to our special teams and offense to get things going. And now that we have a defense that is definitely high caliber, we are going to be in basically every game we play. The blackshirts are going to make it so we don’t get blown out in a single game this year, and may very well be the unit that gets us to 6 wins. I think this is a game that first to 21 points wins.
I just don’t think we are there or consistent enough yet. Until I see that, I can’t predict a win against a top 5 team (even though I don’t believe they are top 5). I believe the Blackshirts will stuff the heck out of Michigan. And I even think our offense will have some early success with some wrinkles Michigan isn’t ready for. But how good of a team are we when we get punched in the mouth? Will we have a penalty in crunch time? Will our special teams buckle with pressure? Will there be a turnover at the worst time? We always talk about “one possession losses” as a positive and us “being close”. An Iowa friend of mine said “what if that’s just a stat to tell you guys how good you are at giving games away? I mean, aren’t your turnovers and special teams bad? That stat doesn’t make me think you’re close, it makes me think the opposite.” It made me think, because Michigan doesn’t give games away at all. I unfortunately think when the dust settles it will be another game with a one possession loss for us.
Michigan 24 Nebraska 20
Go Big Red!
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