Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Faces Physical Challenge as Significant Underdog Against No. 3 Michigan

November 08, 2022

Mickey Joseph said he’s never been a multi-touchdown underdog in a football game. Not as a coach, certainly not as a player. Absolutely not.

That spread, which now deems Nebraska a 29-point underdog going into Ann Arbor on Saturday, means the betting world sees Michigan as four touchdowns better than Nebraska. That’s how the interim head coach saw it on Tuesday at the podium.

“But you still got to kick the ball off,” Joseph said. “You’ve got to play at the top level. You’ve got to play 60 minutes and we’re not going to back down. These kids won’t do that. These coaches won’t do that.”

No. 3 Michigan hosts the 2:30 p.m. kickoff with an unblemished record. The Wolverines find out where exactly they are in the latest College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night but would lock a second consecutive playoff berth if the season ended today. Michigan made the playoff last year when Nebraska’s upset bid fell 7 points shy, like so many others, in Lincoln last year. Those from that team, like tight end Travis Vokolek, said last year’s meeting wasn’t some fluke or odd circumstance. The Huskers could once again make a run at mighty Michigan if they stayed focused.

“It’s just executing and finishing games,” Vokolek said. “If we execute on offense I like our chances this weekend.”

Nebraska’s offensive execution might look different this week than weeks prior. Joseph and the players who spoke on Tuesday knew the physical nature of the Big Ten and how their upcoming opponent epitomized that physicality. That means lining strength on strength. Offensive lineman Ethan Piper said it starts with visualizing “you’ll kick some butt,” and believing they can move their opponent off the line. “It will be a dog fight up front,” he said.

Joseph revisited comments he made following the loss to Oklahoma in September. He regretted not slowing the game down earlier. He wants to see run-based, physical strategy going into a monument of Big Ten football.

“We’ve got to play Big Ten football, eventually we’ll get to that,” Joseph said. “You’ve got to try to play Big Ten football and slow it down.

“You’ve got to be happy with 3 or 4 yard runs.”

Joseph communicated that message among the coaches. He said how the message was received stayed between himself and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.

Piper felt this made his job, and the entire offensive line’s, became more important with that decision. While the offense stuck to its gameplan throughout consistent 3-and-outs against Minnesota and Illinois, he feels they have to prove they can stick with the run.

“We have to give Mickey the confidence that we can get 4 yards a carry,” the sophomore from Norfolk Catholic said. “That starts with practice and we’ve just got to be more physical and impose our will on the opponent.”

That mentality, the sheer physicality that Joseph wanted the team to embrace in the bye week ahead of the Indiana win, carries over to defense. The Huskers held Minnesota scoreless in the first half with minimal yards last week. A similar result isn’t likely this Saturday but the effort can be.

Sophomore Marques Buford is listed at 5-feet-11, 190 pounds. He said “it is what it is,” in terms of the physicality. His job is to get the ball carrier down, even if they more likely than not have a 25-pound advantage. Michigan’s Blake Corum is no exception. He’s a Heisman contender with three games left in the season. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday called him the best back he’s ever coached. Harbaugh couldn’t think of a comparison other than Frank Gore.

“But everybody has to put their helmet on the same, everybody puts their shoulder pads on the same, everybody has to pull their pads up the same,” Buford said on Tuesday. “At the end of the day we’re going in there to beat Michigan, we’re not going in there to beat just Blake or just the quarterback or one person on the team. We’re going in there to win the game, entirely.”

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