Michigan enters Saturday’s match-up with the best defense Nebraska has faced to date. The Wolverines are allowing only 16.4 points per game (16th nationally) and 285.3 yards per game (10th nationally). It’s a better unit than the one that held Nebraska to 260 yards — the second lowest total of the season — and 17 points in 2011.
“They know how people are trying to attack them, they’ve learned, their package has grown, they’ve done more things out of it,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “They are veteran players and they are playing really well together right now. They seem to have kind of found a gear that they play really well in. They run hard to the football. You can see it in the film.”
Particularly problematic for the Huskers last season was third down. Michigan held Nebraska to just 3-for-13 on third down, tied for the worst percentage of the season with the game against South Carolina. That will be an emphasis for the Nebraska offense this week.
“We weren’t very effective on third down,” Beck said. “That’ll be a key in the ballgame. Being able to handle pressure packages and the things they have for third down.”
Beck said Nebraska won’t necessarily look to the slow things down offensively to limit the time Denard Robinson — the Big Ten’s leader in total offense — is on the field, but he wouldn’t rule it out either.
“A lot depends on the rhythm of the game,” he said. “Whatever it is, you have to find ways to win. If it’s score a lot of points, you score a lot of points. If it’s find ways at the end of the game to score two touchdowns, it’s that. Whatever we feel we need to do to win the game, that’s the bottom line.”
A couple of additional notes from Monday’s practice:
–Senior running back Rex Burkhead did not practice. He continued to rehab his injured left knee.
– Beck on Nebraska’s fourth quarter efficiency versus Northwestern: ”Our expectations are that they should play the whole game like that. They showed the resolve, they showed the focus and the ability to go out and everybody executed. We made blocks, we made throws, we made catches – everything we’ve asked our guys to do…there’s no reason why they can’t do that all the time. We were very fortunate to get out of there with the win.”
–Beck also had some praise for Taylor Martinez who was instrumental in engineering Nebraska’s late comeback.
“He ran the ball well and made good decisions with the football,” Beck said. “He knew when to tuck it down and run. He was looking for throws down the field. I thought he did a lot of really good things. He bounced back really strong and we’ve got to have that play from him consistently throughout the year for us to be able to be successful.”