Photo Credit: Eric Francis

No. 3 Michigan Deserving of the Billing Ahead of Nebraska’s Visit

November 11, 2022

Nebraska’s bowl hopes hinge on an upset unlike anything the program’s accomplished before. As of Thursday night, Nebraska was a 31-point underdog for Saturday’s game against No. 3 Michigan. That’s the largest in program history.

Respect for the Wolverines (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) from sportsbooks, coaches, the College Football Playoff Committee and those who’ve played them isn’t unfounded. The returning Big Ten Champions are solid across the board, ranking in the top 10 in most statistical categories in all phases. They’re veteran-led with a Heisman-caliber running back. They’ll provide Nebraska an incredible challenge at The Big House on 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday.

Offense

Heisman contender Blake Corum is the star in the Michigan backfield. Earlier this week, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh called Corum the best running back he’s ever coached. Nebraska defensive coordinator Bill Busch said he couldn’t think of any better college running back. Following a slow-start to the year, the junior has come on for at least 100 yards and a touchdown in the last six games. Five of those games included 25 or more carries. The Wolverines trust the workhorse to move the chains and more.

“He is a really good player,” Nebraska interim head coach Mickey Joseph said earlier this week. “He is probably one of the top backs in the country. I think he is getting Heisman votes right now. If you watch the film he runs low to the ground. He runs with violence, and he has a really good burst. When he sees it he sees it and he busts through the hole. He is a really good football player.”

At the heart of Michigan’s offensive success is the veteran line. Sixth-year senior but Michigan debutant Olusegun Oluwatimi has started every game at center and junior Zak Zinter has started every game at right guard. Senior Trevor Keegan has started all but one game at left tackle and senior Karsen Barnhart has played the last three games at right tackle. Fifth-year senior Ryan Hayes missed the Rutgers game last week at left tackle but could be back against Nebraska.

“They’re definitely coming right along to being really good players,” Harbaugh said of the line earlier this week.

The line conglomerate also protect quarterback JJ McCarthy so he can spread the ball to receivers Ronnie Bell, Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson and tight end Luke Schoonmaker. McCarthy manages games with his 70% completion rate and 12-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Defense

The Wolverines lead the country in defensive stop rate. That means opponents have not scored on 83.7% of Michigan’s 104 defensive drives. Opponents average just 0.91 points per drive against the Wolverines.

That also starts with consistency up front. Their front four (defensive tackle, nose tackle and two edge) lineup has been the exact same for seven of nine games this year. Edge Jaylen Harrell missed the Rutgers game and his status remains uncertain for Saturday’s clash. Linebackers Junior Colson and Michael Barrett have started the last eight games together.

Colson by far leads the defense with 61 tackles but 14 different Wolverines have at least half a sack this season. Mike Morris, one of the edge rushers, has seven sacks this season.

The secondary experienced more turnover with injuries but has still managed 30 PBUs and eight interceptions this season. Two of those came on consecutive drives against Rutgers last week to help the Wolverines pull away in the second half. Barrett picked off Rutgers’ Gavin Wimsatt and returned the ball to the 10, setting up a 2-yard Corum touchdown run. On the next drive, Barrett picked off a tipped ball and returned it 31 yards for the touchdown. That swing turned a 21-17 game into a 35-17 game and Michigan never looked back.

“They are probably the best that we are going to face this year talent-wise,” Mickey Joseph said earlier this week. “They are well-coached, they do a really good job, they are a tough team, they do a lot in the run game, they do a lot on defense, they have a high IQ football team. And they are an older football team. So, you are dealing with a solid football team this week.”

Special Teams

Ten of punter Brad Robbins’ 22 boots have gone inside the 20. He’s the only Big Ten punter to not hit 1,000 punting yards, mostly because he’s punted less than anyone else in the conference. Jake Moody is 19 of 24 with a season long field goal of 54 yards this year. He’s fresh off a 1-for-3 performance at Rutgers where he missed two from 50 yards.

Return specialist A.J. Henning is one to watch. He averages 8.4 yards per punt return, including a 61-yard return for a touchdown against UConn earlier this season.

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