Michigan is Ivan Drago
Photo Credit: Greg Smith

Michigan is Ivan Drago, Nebraska’s Hoping It’s Rocky

September 19, 2018

Troy Walters is serious about Michigan.

The offensive coordinator for the Huskers also coaches wideouts, and in anticipation of a very physical set of corners waiting for his group in Ann Arbor, Walters told his unit this week to not let anyone touch them.

“I told the receivers this week that if anybody puts their hands on you — girlfriend, family member — knock it off,” he said. “I’m serious, it’s that type of game. It’s a mentality where they’re going to be physical, they’re going to try to disrupt the timing of the quarterback, they’re going to try to get their hands on us.

“We’ve got to have that physical mindset that nothing’s going to be easy. You’re not going to get five, six, seven yards of separation against these guys. Everything’s going to be contested, and you have to that mentality going in and I told them this week, if anybody puts their hands on you, knock it off. Tell your girlfriend don’t take it personal, that’s just the mindset we’re in this week.”

Of course, the “we’ve got to be physical with these guys” approach doesn’t end with Michigan’s cornerbacks. It extends to their whole defense. This is a unit that ranks seventh in the country in S&P+ and eighth in yards per play.

Nebraska is rightfully concerned about linebacker Devin Bush.

“He’s got everything, fast, physical, explosive, smart, he knows exactly — based on formations — what you’re going to run and he plays with relentless effort,” Walters said. “He’s always around the ball. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got a hat on him and he’s accounted for.”

Nebraska is also rightfully concerned about the Wolverine defensive line. A line that includes all-conference selections Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich.

“They’re athletic. Their d-line is the best we’ve played this season and maybe the best we’re going to play. O-line knows it’s going to be a challenge,” Walters said. He added that against Troy, Nebraska did a good job of getting on its blocks but it didn’t finish. “That’s what we were missing across the board was the finish. It’s not good enough just to get on a guy. You’ve got to finish them off so the running backs can make the cut and find the hole.”

But the Husker offense is also concerned about getting more of a rotation going at some key spots. Head coach Scott Frost said Monday the offensive line got tired late in drives against Troy. Line coach Greg Austin said the same. Walters said star wideouts Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman are being worn out.

Walters hoped they’d have more of a rotation at wideout by this point in the season. He said he challenged the group this week and said, “Y’all gotta step up.” He said Morgan, during his postgame talk with the team after Troy, told the wideouts the same.

“It’s open,” he said. “Who’s the third, who’s the fourth, who’s the fifth guy? It’s open. It’s going to be based on how they practice and how they prepare this week and how they go through pregame warmups.

“Those guys understand that and they know that they’ve got to step their game up … Those other guys have to step up and be ready to play and the standards don’t go down regardless of who’s in the game.”

Walters said Jaron Woodyard, Andre Hunt and Jaevon McQuitty have all looked good this week. Hunt is the only member of that group that has played. Perhaps a few of those guys make it onto the 74-man travel roster this week.

Other news and notes

>> Adrian Martinez practice again Wednesday. Walters said he’s making progress. He also said the same the staff has been saying since the injury: Martinez won’t play unless there’s no risk of further injury.

“We want to make sure he’s healthy, we want to make sure he’s close to 100 percent,” Walters said. “We’re going against a good defense, they fly around, they’re physical and we’re not going to put him in any harm or any danger. He’s got to be able to make all the throws and all the runs. We’ll take our time and make sure he’s healthy and he gives us the best chance to win.”

>> Safety JoJo Domann missed practice again Wednesday. Freshman Cam Jones was also spotted leaving practice with a sling on his left arm.

>> A week after bringing up a "Days of Thunder" reference in his availability, running backs coach Ryan Held cemented his status as the G.O.A.T. by comparing this weekend’s game to Rocky.

"At the end of the day, this is 'Rocky IV'. Nobody thinks we can win this game. National people don't think we can win this game,” he said. We have to be able to rally, come together as a group, go on the road, get on that airplane like Rocky Balboa did and frickin’ beat Ivan Drago. That's what we have to do. That's kind of where we are and we're going to keep fighting to get this done."

>> Nebraska fumbled the ball four times last Saturday but the only one it lost came after tight end Jack Stoll caught a ball near the first down marker and had it stripped while fighting for extra yardage. His position coach, Sean Beckton, was asked about fumbles Wednesday and had this to say:

“Turnovers have basically harmed us the first two weeks. Us as a coaching staff, we’re continuing to work on it. These guys have to start understanding you have that football in your hand, you have to protect it like gold. That’s been our motto this week: protect the football. Quarterback, running back, receivers and tight ends, we are protecting the football.”

>> Walters continued to display confidence in backup quarterback Andrew Bunch. In his first career start against Troy, the walk-on sophomore went 19-of-27 for 177 yards, two scores and two picks. Walters said he graded out nicely

“He did a good job,” Walters said. “We’ve got to help him. We’ve got to have receivers making plays. We’ve got to have the offensive line protecting him better, opening up holes. Running backs have to hit the holes. He played a good game. He played well enough for us to win.

“We’re proud of Andrew. He’s only going to get better. If he does play this game, he’s going to get better in Game 2. We feel good about if it’s Adrian, it’s Adrian and if it’s Andrew, it’s Andrew. We feel like we can go up to Michigan and win with either of those two guys.”

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