After the debacle in Columbus, Bo Pelini set his own standard for the rest of the year: “We need to win out.” Following a comeback victory versus the Northwestern Wildcats, that goal is still achievable. What caused the Nebraska Cornhuskers to get thumped by the Ohio State Buckeyes and nearly drop their second game in a row in Evanston will ultimately determine whether the home crowd sees a win or a loss this weekend: turnovers.
The Cornhuskers are ranked dead last out of 124 teams in fumbles lost, coughing the ball up 13 times. Their -9 turnover margin (No. 114) has contributed heavily to the team’s struggle for success. This will be the case again against the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan doesn’t turn the ball over as often, but Nebraska may be able to take advantage of the Wolverines’ biggest offensive threat.
While Michigan is tied for third in the nation with a +3 turnover margin, quarterback Denard Robinson has thrown nine interceptions this season. Husker fans have been pleasantly surprised by the Cornhuskers’ secondary, and while lacking interceptions, they’ve made receptions extremely difficult to come by at times.
With running back Rex Burkhead’s status for the contest unknown, Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross all look to have a hand in Nebraska’s rushing attack. While Abdullah will likely get most of the carries, he’s struggled with ball security during his two seasons in Lincoln. If the Wolverines can catch him, watch for vicious swipes at the ball.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez has been impressive through most of the year, especially when compared to his previous two seasons, but his biggest collapses have occurred when the spotlight shines brightest.
He threw one touchdown and four interceptions combined against the UCLA Bruins and Ohio State. The good news for Martinez: those games were on the road. The bad news is not only does Michigan boast the No. 3 pass defense in the country, but sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan is an authority at busting through backfields.
The Wolverines may let him loose from his leash and encourage sophomore defensive back Raymon Taylor to read Martinez’s eyes. Taylor already has two interceptions on the year including a pick-six. The duo of he and Ryan could change the game’s momentum in a hurry.
Nebraska’s offensive line needs to produce above average results at the very least to neutralize this threat. Fortunately, the Cornhuskers’ tandem of tight end Ben Cotton and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa provide some of the team’s most physical run blocking and can assist Abudllah in breaking free, forcing Ryan and Taylor to back off.
If the Cornhuskers can keep the ball in their own hands, they’ll have every opportunity to get revenge for last year’s pasting in Ann Arbor. If they gift wrap two or three possessions for Brady Hoke’s bunch, Pelini will likely see his measuring stick for the rest of the season snap in front of the home crowd.
Brandon Cavanaugh is a college football columnist for Rant Sports and member of the Football Writers Association of America. Feel free to follow him on Twitter and join in on the conversation