Michigan and Nebraska face off this weekend in a game that is pretty big on each team's schedules. Nebraska reporter Mitch Sherman and Michigan reporter Chantel Jennings sat down to discuss a few of the story lines heading in to this matchup. Since both teams are on separate ends of the emotional spectrum, that seemed like a good place to start the conversation.
1. Nebraska is coming off a last-second win and Michigan is coming off an embarrassing loss, which emotional state is more dangerous for the opponent?
Mitch Sherman: For Nebraska and its state of mind at the Big House, it’s all about the start. If the Cornhuskers can get a couple defensive stops and score early, they’ll feel that momentum from a week ago and the finish of the Northwestern game. If not, the Huskers are just as likely to remember Minneapolis, where they lost two weeks ago, or worse yet, their experiences in Madison, Ann Arbor, Columbus or Indianapolis, the sites of embarrassing losses over the past two seasons.
Chantel Jennings: Michigan wants to use this weekend to prove that last weekend was an anomaly, but that means the Wolverines could almost come out too emotional and overcompensate. The Huskers, on the other hand, are riding a high wave of excitement and momentum, which, at the end of the day, I think is more dangerous in a game. Even if they get knocked down a few notches during the game, they’re still feeling better.
2. Michigan’s offensive line struggled mightily against Michigan State, how does it respond against Nebraska?
Jennings: It’s hard to say. Michigan’s offensive line isn’t in a great place and a loss like that definitely doesn’t help build any confidence or chemistry in a group. On top of that, I’d imagine Nebraska coaches will look to the Michigan-MSU game film for a blueprint of sorts at how to attack Michigan’s offensive line. Obviously, the Huskers don’t have the same talent that the Spartans do, but looking at what the Spartans did and how they did it will help Nebraska some kind of an idea how to do it.
Sherman: Nebraska’s strength on defense starts on the edge, both in the secondary and up front. Defensive end Randy Gregory can change a game. The Huskers will move Gregory often, perhaps even align him at the second level, to avoid a regular matchup with Taylor Lewan, the Michigan blocker most likely to contain Gregory. Freshman Avery Moss is turning into a playmaker, too, at defensive end, and Nebraska will bring heat from the secondary in an attempt to rattle Devin Gardner. If the Huskers can expose the Wolverines’ weaknesses in pass protection and get to the quarterback, it’s a huge positive for coach Bo Pelini’s group.
3. Nebraska’s offensive line will miss some talent this weekend, how does it fare against Michigan’s defensive line?
Sherman: Doesn’t look good for the Huskers. The loss last month of All-Big Ten guard Spencer Long devastated the line even beyond the expected impact. Mike Moudy has struggled at time in Long’s spot, and the group’s cohesiveness has slipped. Then the Huskers’ other guard, Jake Cotton went down last week. It forces tackle Andrew Rodriguez inside and creates a domino effect to further disrupt chemistry. If the Wolverines dial up a few unusual looks on defense, expect it to cause problems for Nebraska’s ground and aerial games.
Jennings: As unimpressive as the Michigan offense was last weekend, Greg Mattison’s defense is also looking to use this weekend as a statement win. Mattison said earlier this week that if a defense is good enough they’ll find any way to win a game. So, in his opinion, if his defense were good enough, it would’ve found a way to compensate for what the Wolverines offense did – or didn’t do -- against Michigan State. Mattison is going to be riding those guys to push the bar even higher this week with pressure up front (and tighter coverage in the secondary). He’ll give Michigan some pretty crazy blitz schemes that’ll test the Nebraska defensive line.
4. The Wolverines are undefeated at home under Brady Hoke. Even with as inconsistent as Michigan has been, how much of an advantage will this provide the Wolverines?
Jennings: Michigan definitely has another comfort level at home and returning to the Big House following the loss to the Spartans will be a good thing. The Wolverines will definitely be looking to make a statement about who they are as a team this game and undoubtedly, playing in a comfortable environment will help them. Plus, having the 110,000-plus fans helps Michigan and could provide a very intimidating environment for the Huskers to walk in to.
Sherman: On the flip side, Nebraska has won just seven of 15 games away from Lincoln since the start 2011. The Huskers struggled to generate energy two weeks ago at Minnesota. And they’re starting a redshirt freshman quarterback in Tommy Armstrong Jr., who has thrown three interceptions in each of his past two appearances. Armstrong has experienced nothing like the road atmosphere in Ann Arbor. If Nebraska has any shot to neutralize Michigan’s home field, it must create energy on defense and ride the legs of Ameer Abdullah, who’s running as well as any back in the league.