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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Michigan Game Day Thoughts

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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The Husker Locker staff will be presented a number of questions addressing various aspects of each week's game all season long.
This week:
How do you contain Denard Robinson?
Brian: Right now, the easiest thing to do is load up the box and dare Denard to throw. Last week, there were reports that Robinson couldn’t even throw a 10-yard ball after the game. With several injuries and the growing talk about moving Robinson to a wide receiver spot during this coming spring, look for Robinson to make the most of what he can do while he can do it.
That being said, Brady Hoke hasn’t really given his quarterback the chance to do much. Robinson is not an I Formation/Pro Set quarterback. He's the spread/zone read master that many thought he would be. You can’t take him, tweak a few things, and get Ball State's Nate Davis circa 2007 overnight.
Erin: That's an excellent question. I'm not positive that our defense can stop a mobile quarterback. If we're going to, we need to put a lot of pressure on Robinson. Forcing him to throw would be the best case scenario.
Greg: Make him one-dimensional. Make him try to beat you through the air. Don't over-rush him. We've seen a few times this season, particularly earlier on, where defensive linemen flew past the quarterback. It's imperative that they keep Robinson in front of them.
James: You can never really full contain him, as he has too many moves. Brady Hoke is probably the biggest containment effect on him, he's drilled it into Denard to pass first, and not run until he's through his progression.
This gives you a window to harass him, so blitzing and sending your fastest defenders after him before the passing play breaks down is key. "Nard-dog" as my Michigan friends call him, is prone to throwing bad passes, especially in the red zone, so that pressure is key.
To contain him in the running game will require the efforts of linebacker Lavonte David. The downside of doing this, is that Nebraska leaves star Michigan running back Fitz Toussaint open. He's gashed defenses for 420 yards in his last four games. Pick your poison, as they say.
Brandon: Thankfully, Brady Hoke seems to have done a solid job of doing that for Michigan’s opponents. Regardless, when Shoelace decides to tuck it and run, he’s even faster than Taylor Martinez and shiftier. He’s buckled under pressure this year and while the interior defensive tackles have had a rough go, Cam Meredith has been money on the outside.
A four or occasional five-man rush to frazzle Robinson and force his hand (almost literally) will be essential. Shoelace is dangerous, but he’s dinged up, can’t pass well and won’t like several upset Blackshirts in his face. Keep a spy back just in case the big boys whiff and you’ve got a winning combination.
If you’re Tim Beck, how do you attack the Michigan defense?
Brian: Michigan is decent on the line, but horrendous in the back seven. It's fair to say they're almost as bad, if not worse, than Nebraska was early in the season. The perfect plays are inside counters and edge plays that seemed to work well against Penn State.
Teams have kept bringing safeties up to help defend the option. If this happens, Tim Beck can, and should, be able to call some successful line option playaction passes. Kyler Reed and Kenny Bell, if totally healthy, should be able to exploit Michigan's safeties. Look for a lot of Tim Marlowe. That jet sweep action where Rex plays quarterback has prepared a number of plays.
Erin: A balanced offensive attack. That's absolutely crucial.
Greg: With balance. Not just with play calling, but with the personnel used. Utilize the stable of talented, young running backs and spread the ball around to the great guys at wide receiver. There's so much talent. Don't waste it with predictable play calls.
James: You attack the middle of their secondary. Michigan has some solid defensive talent that is finally playing well together. While the individual units work well together, they seem to have issues as an entire 11 which causes breakdowns to occur. I'm looking for some of our Milk Carton players like Kyler Reed to finally make their presence known. Whatever happened to that Jamal Turner kid?
Brandon: The outsides of the Wolverines’ defense are weak, but the back seven has bigger holes. Nebraska may employ the services of faster players that haven’t seen much action lately (Aaron Green, Jamal Turner, etc.) to tire out the Michigan linemen and pull the secondary up. Beck has something invaluable and that’s the threat of Martinez and Burkhead.
If you’re Michigan, you have to respect Martinez’s feet and force him to throw. The problem is that he’s hitting mid-range passes better than ever. On option plays, opponents finally have to commit and not key in on Taylor like last year or Burkhead earlier this season. Use that extra second of hesitation to launch some bombs downfield to Kyler Reed, Quincy Enunwa or Kenny Bell. In summary: Get the Wolverines tired, then go for the gusto.
Do you see Nebraska being affected by The Big House?
Brian: In a way, yes. Michigan Stadium, even with all the additions, is still one big place, and roughly 80 percent of the stadium is underground. That can create a noise factor for the Wolverines. However, as we have all seen, the crowd can be easily taken out of the game from time to time.
It’s not like Memorial Stadium where the stands can seem right on top of you. If you can get a little bit of that EA Sports-style momentum on your side, things can go your way pretty easily.
Erin: Not really. I mean, it will be impressive, sure. But I feel like this team doesn't get phased by the crowd too much. Plus, we've seen this time and time again that Martinez loves a visiting crowd. I'll be interested to see how he handles the Big House.
Greg: After the first quarter, Nebraska should be used to playing in front of the massive and hostile bunch. They need to get that early lead and take the crowd out of it.
James: No. The Big House is consistently talked about by fans of the Big Ten as being one of the quieter stadiums in the nation. It's more of a country club atmosphere, and the design of the stadium allows a lot of the noise to escape. If Nebraska can survive Happy Valley and Camp Randall, the Big House shouldn't be that big of a deal.
You get the feeling Michigan fans, knowing the division is out of reach, are already looking forward to their battle against the hated Buckeyes. Combine that with an 11 A.M. kickoff and I'm not expecting noise to be a critical factor.
Brandon: No, and that seems really weird for a place that packs in over 110,000 people, doesn’t it? The problem with Michigan Stadium is that while the tradition and grandeur is there, the place is built for watching a football game, not intimidating the opponents. Unless they have severe Agoraphobia, that is.
Sound escapes due to how The Big House is built. It’s a cool place to play football, but it also makes a nice backdrop for the hometown photographers of the opposition.
How is your confidence level in this team at this point in the season?
Brian: Same as it ever was and leaning towards Nebraska winning this game. As many of you know, the bigger the game, the greater the chance the Huskers come out flat. Last week was a very emotional week, both with the buildup to the game plus the actions before and during it.
There hasn’t been as much buzz leading up to this game as we first thought there would be back in July/August. However, the winner still has an inside track to a BCS at-large game. That's huge considering where these two programs have been over the last few years.
Let's not forget last year when Nebraska went into College Station with the same possibility of a BCS berth, only to lay a dud on the road, though. Granted, these are not Big 12 officials on Dan Beebe’s watch, however the performance of that game has to be avoided.
Nebraska can inflict their will on a Michigan team that is very similar in every aspect of the game. When two teams like this are so evenly matched, intangibles come into play. The Huskers have been pretty good when it comes to penalties and holding onto any fumbles this year. In order to win this game, that must continue.
Erin: It's pretty high. I think we've seen a lot of really positive things from this group and I have a lot of faith that they can win out. I think when all the working pieces come together, they are difficult to stop. It just really depends on how they want to play.
Greg: I know some are uncomfortable with a two-loss season. It hurts to lose games, and it pisses you off to lose games you're supposed to win. I'm still confident. I know we are dependant on a Michigan State loss to make it to Indianapolis, but hey, no one expected Iowa State to beat Oklahoma State. That's why you play the game.
James: It'd be higher if we weren't so injury decimated. We have 2-3 offensive guards who are usable, an issue at defensive tackle, a third defensive back who was a wide receiver, questions at nickel/safety, no linebackers behind our top two, a star running back who has had way too many carries, and our best blocking tight end is out.
On the offensive side, it's frustrating we haven't developed more talent behind Rex Burkhead, but the defense's current state is a result of the the 2008 and 2009 recruiting effort made by this staff. If Nebraska can stop Michigan's running game, I feel pretty good about this weekend.
I think that's a tall order given the weapons the Wolverines have in Robinson, backup quarterback Devin Gardner and Toussaint. That said, Iowa's lack of a mobile quarterback makes me feel very good about our chances to send the seniors out as winners at home on Black Friday.
Brandon: It’s pretty high, actually. Take that as a good sign from a guy who might as well be from Missouri with his “show me” attitude. I like Beck Ball and I’ve been impressed with what Pelini has done with a defense that’s cobbled together at this point. My main concerns are Rex’s legs, the wide receivers’ mitts, extra defensive backs and the safeties.
Against Michigan, I’d like to see Rex stay as close as he can to 15-20 carries if at all possible. Coach Fisher has an abundance of young talent on his hands, but they’ve got to bring those balls in before they turn on the jets.
Finally, Dennard’s playing at an NFL level and Andrew Green appears to have solidified the spot opposite. If Robinson was a better passer, I’d be concerned about Thorell, Blatchford, Cassidy, etc. He doesn’t seem to be able to hit the broad side of the Big House right now, though.
The elements are there for an impressive victory, but I’m sure Nebraska fans would settle with scoreboard and more ammo for the “Real 1997 National Champions” argument.
Follow the panel on Twitter:
Brandon: @eightlaces
Brian: @btbowling
Erin: @helloerinmarie
Greg: @thehooch36
James: @jamesstevenson
Follow Husker Locker on Twitter: @huskerlocker
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