this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
By Ken “Sky” Walker
Whew! That game vs. Sparty was way too close! Glad Blue was finally able to get past State and shut up all those Spartan lovers. Very sweet to hear the dejected tone of the MSU player’s in their postgame comments. I do have one problem with last Saturday’s game however—why was I surrounded by people clad in green & white? I was very disappointed by the large number of folks who opted to sell their tickets, to a rivalry game no less. Come on Michigan fans, is it really only about the money?
You can bet that Maize & Blue will be hard to find in Lincoln tonight. Just from the numbers who showed up in Ann Arbor last year, I’m thinking it will be a solid sea of red. I have to say that at least the Nebraska fans I spoke to were knowledgeable, well behaved, if not downright cordial (of course their team was getting feasted on by the Wolverines—that does tend to lessen one’s spunk). And while I’d love to check out the game day atmosphere in Memorial Stadium, I’m kind of sketchy about a road trip to Lincoln. The last time I deigned to attend a game in the Big Ten hinterlands (that would be Champaign, Ill.) the eau de fertilizer was a bit overpowering.
Nebraska is promoting this game as the first in college football history between conference teams with at least 850 all-time wins. While that is a unique occurrence, I’m more impressed that Nebraska will also be celebrating 50 years of consecutive sellouts. Think about it. Michigan just had their 242nd game with 100,000 fans or more. That’s somewhere between 20 – 24 years, playing 10 – 12 games per season. Fifty years of sellouts? I don’t know if I should be wowed by this or lament the fact there’s no other outlet for Lincoln sports fans other than Nebraska athletics.
The rub in this is that the Wolverines are going into the lion’s den. We’re talking a Columbus type environment. While I think it won’t be anywhere near as nasty, there’s still going to be 87,000-plus fans looking to see their Cornhuskers to avenge last year’s debacle in the Big House. Brady Hoke’s teams have had some trouble in road games during his tenure. It will be quite a feat if Michigan can get this road win, having just had an emotional victory over MSU.
We Michiganders are fortunate to have plenty of outlets for our sporting interests. Top notch ones at that. I’ll have to see if Counterpunt will venture out with me to watch Michigan/Nebraska and the World series. It’s just that tonight, I think we’re going to be drowning our sorrows.
Michigan 20 Nebraska 27
By Nick RoUMel
I remember January 1, 1998 like it was just 15 years ago. Michigan had completed one of the most remarkable seasons in its storied history. It had gone undefeated in glorious fashion, in the process knocking off #7 Colorado, Notre Dame, #15 Iowa, #14 Michigan State, #2 Penn State, #23 Wisconsin, and #4 Ohio State, to complete an undefeated 11-0 and earn a spot in the Rose Bowl. They were the unanimous #1 in both the AP and USA Today polls, in the last season before the BCS came to destroy our way of life.
Michigan’s defense was astonishing, giving up less than 10 points a game, including a total of only 78 points in the entire Big Ten season. (In contrast, in 2010, Rich Rod’s defense allowed 65 points to Illinois in a single game. Yes I know we still won. Shut up and listen to Grandpa.)
The Penn State game in 1997 was our favorite, as Punt will attest. Facing the undefeated Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, we tailgated from 7 AM in a steady drizzle with our insufferable Penn State hosts until crushing their hearts with a 34-8 victory. That same day, Nebraska remained undefeated by engaging in Sparty-like documented cheating to beat Missouri when a downed receiver purposefully kicked the live ball to another receiver for a touchdown to send the game into overtime, which Nebraska eventually won. The Cornhuskers still affectionately refer to that play as the “Fleakicker.”
Confident in our season of destiny, we did not think too much about Nebraska’s lucky victory. Michigan went on to demoralize Ohio State to earn a Rose Bowl berth against the Washington State Cougars, who won a weak Pac 10 that year with the gifted but stupid Ryan Leaf at quarterback. We could all but taste finishing the season as the unanimous #1 pick in the nation.
Back to January 1, 1998. With just 29 seconds to play in the Rose Bowl, Michigan led 21-16 thanks to three long Brian Griese passes, two to Tai Streets, and a Charles Woodson interception in the end zone. It was not a blowout, but it was convincing. A late punt pinned the Cougars on their 7 yard line with just 29 seconds to play.
Two long passes later, Washington State found itself on Michigan’s 16. One of those passes was controversial. The WSU receiver shoved Charles Woodson out of the way before catching the ball. The official reached for his hanky, but for some reason, did not pull it out. As seconds wound down, Leaf spiked the ball for one last play. The whistle blew. In another controversial call, officials said time had run out.
At that point, Michigan fans felt just as much relief as euphoria. We turned to watch the Orange Bowl, where the Peyton Manning led Tennessee Volunteers would face the now #2 Nebraska Cornhuskers. An injured but game Manning had no mobility and was manhandled by the swarming Cornhusker defense. After the game, Nebraska quarterback Scotty Frost was interviewed. In a moving tribute that still makes me sick to recall, Scotty made a shameless plea to voters to choose Nebraska #1 over Michigan. He argued this would be a fitting cap to the career of their retiring coach Tom Osborne, but he could not resist adding a dig against Michigan. As quoted by the Ann Arbor News:
“If you can look yourself in the mirror and say if your job depended on playing either Michigan or Nebraska to keep your job, who would you rather play?" Frost remarked after the game. "You watched the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl. Michigan won with a controversial play at the end. We took apart the third-ranked team in the country.
"The second point I have is: I can't see how any coach outside the Big Ten or the Pac-10 would vote for Michigan.”
The coaches complied, leapfrogging Nebraska over Michigan for the #1 final spot in the coaches’ poll, while Michigan managed the #1 vote of the writers (AP). Watching that on the news the next day almost made me spit out my Pina Colada, under the California palm trees.
I have not forgiven Nebraska since. Nor Tennessee for that matter, nor Peyton Manning, nor Missouri, nor the sentimental coaches who screwed Michigan to give Tom Osborne a parting gift. Not to mention perpetual tackhead Ryan Leaf, and the official who swallowed his whistle when Woodson got shoved.
In fact, Counterpunt is feeling unforgiving these days to just about everyone, including Punt - who dares to pick Nebraska to beat Michigan today. Why, Punt? Did Scotty Frost get to you too?
MICHIGAN 22 – NEBRASKA 16
[Bonus pick: Tigers 3, Giants 2 – Valverde gets the save].
Predictorama. Everyone predicts Nebraska-Michigan:
- Athlon: M 31-27: "This matchup is relatively even, but a slight edge goes to Michigan. Taylor Martinez and his receivers will test the Wolverines’ secondary, but Nebraska’s defense will struggle to stop Denard Robinson. Expect Michigan’s defense to make one play late in the game that seals the victory for the Wolverines." [NO PRESSURE GREG]
- BWS: Martinez will complete more deep, downfield throws in this game than Michigan has allowed all season, but none of them go for touchdowns; they're heaves to wide receivers who can out-leap and out-muscle Michigan's corners. However, Michigan holds Nebraska to near 150 yards rushing. It's boom-or-bust for Nebraska's offense. Michigan finally gets a good kick/punt return. Nebraska rallies late but Michigan clutches to the win. Michigan 27 - Nebraska 24
- Maize and Brew: Ultimately I think both offenses find some success running the ball, but there are a lot of stalled drives that go 40-50 yards and end in that awkward no-mans-land between "why are you punting" and "why didn't you punt". How the teams approach these situations and who has the most luck on X-and-short will ultimately decide the game. When it comes to this, I like Michigan's odds. Michigan 30 - Nebraska 27
- Holdin' the Rope features Who Are You And Why Do You Care?: Prediction based on everything but football: Nebraska 21 - Michigan 17.
- M&GB: While Nebraska will score some points, Michigan’s offense should be able to move the ball with relative ease. The offensive line will get enough push against an overmatched front seven and pave the way for a big day on the ground. The ‘Huskers have done a good job this season of matching up with opposing receivers, so look for another big day from tight end Devin Funchess as well when Denard does need to pass. Michigan 42 – Nebraska 24. [ed: yow]
The MZone also has their Know Your Foe series featuring Nebraska mascots past:
I'm surprised the entire state isn't a raving insomniac mess after that business and Li'l Red.
All of us are Purdue. Don't ask me to explain.
I award Jerry Kill the Award for Most Walrus-Looking.
in the communnnity
hmmm. Post idea.
Ryan profile. Via Mike Rothstein comes an extended look at Ryan the Barbarian. In retrospect, this was obvious:
Jake noticed that several kids had stuffed animals they had won in an arcade game in the lobby. He put his arm up the drop portal -- the one the toys usually popped out of -- in an attempt to circumvent the system and grab a stuffed animal.
"The guy had to use the butter from the popcorn machine, rub all over his hands, way up there, to get it out," Susan said. "He was stuck up there for a while."
And thus began Michigan's unique strategy of scouting claw machines across the Midwest, offering anyone with their arm stuck up one.
Hyman profile. This from the Daily:
On the way back from Boston, with Boston University the clear leader in the clubhouse, the Hymans detoured to Ann Arbor for a stop.
It would be their last.
Zach and Spencer sat across from Red Berenson in the coach’s office, while Berenson laid out why they should be Wolverines. It didn’t take long.
“Ten minutes into Michigan, we had completely forgotten about every other school,” Spencer said. “It was over. Zach and I were sitting in the (Ross Academic Center) and we looked at each other and it was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to Michigan.’ ”
Big test tonight for that surging fourth line.
Check on the blocking. Press conference regurgitating here but let's bring that out from behind a jump to confirm that, yeah, Joe Kerridge is in the process of Wally Pipping one Stephen Hopkins:
“I think Joe’s had a pretty daggone good stretch here," coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday. "He’s practiced well. You look at the iso’s and some of the things that he’s doing in practice, and then when he gets out there on the field. That’s a big part of it.”
Hopkins became the starting fullback midway through last season when then-starter John McColgan suffered an injury. He started every game at fullback until sustaining the hamstring injury before the UMass game in Week 3.
Now, it appears he's out of a job.
Brandon Moore isn't playing much after returning from injury either, but I don't think many people are surprised about that.
See no evil no longer works. The NCAA is set to adopt the long-in-the-making penalty revamp that will finally make head coaches responsible for their assistants breaking NCAA rules:
"It's a tougher penalty structure, there's no doubt about it," Southern California athletic director Pat Haden said in an interview conducted prior to USA TODAYSports' acquisition of the document. "The point is, for head coaches -- and this goes for any sport -- you have this responsibility. You need to be constantly vigilant and you need to be constantly coaching your coaches about how important it is to play by the rules." …
Head coaches can avoid penalties for violations committed by their staff if they can document vigilance about potential red flags. For example, the document states that a head coach should ask about how unofficial visits are paid for and advises head coaches to ask their assistants if they suspect a third party or handler is involved in the recruitment.
The rules are supposed to go into effect Tuesday; hopefully they'll have some impact. Always tough to tell.
Puck drop tonight. The CCHA's parting gift to Michigan starts this weekend as what might be the conference series of the year will see the Saturday game bereft since it's on at the same time Nebraska-Michigan is. The athletic department is selling half-price tickets to both games this weekend, which says something about where Yost attendance is when you can't even sell out a 7:35 Friday game against Miami.
Whether Yost is present or not, they'll drop the puck. MHN on the Redhawks:
Miami is led offensively by a strong group of underclassmen. Five of their top six scorers are a freshman and sophomores. Sophomores Blake Coleman (4-1-5 in 4gp), Austin Czarnik (2-3-5 in 4gp), and freshman Riley Barber (3-2-5 in 4gp) are all tied for the team scoring lead.
Like the Wolverines, the RedHawks welcome a pair of freshmen in the crease who have split playing time. Freshman Jay Williams is 2-0-0 with a 1.94 GAA and .915 save percentage. Fellow classmate Ryan McKay is 1-0-1 with a 0.48 GAA and .984 save percentage.
After two weekends in which the play on the ice was dominating against lower-level competition this is an acid test. Racine will get the start for M.
BONUS: The only word we'd had on Michigan's nonconference scheduling after the move to the Big Ten was something Red tossed off about having little desire to continue "so-called rivalries" against Miami and Notre Dame, which was disappointing. Red seems to have reversed his opinion somewhat, though:
Berenson said on Inside Michigan Hockey this week that Miami is interested in scheduling non-conference games after the CCHA disbands.
I'm guessing scheduling ND is out of the question after they ended the football series in the most dickish way possible.
I'm nervous that Michigan's going to run out 14 games against Bentley next year. Any indication they're not is welcome.
Meanwhile, here's my contractually obligated reminder that the Michigan schools and a guest—probably Bowling Green—should ditch the GLI for a State of Michigan Championship that would be awesome. The trophy could be a mitten the size of a man the winning captain has to put on. Yeah.
Squash. It was known at the time that Rick Pitino was theees close to becoming Michigan's basketball coach a while back when the Amaker hire was made, and good Lord what—
“The day that I committed to Louisville, I signed an agreement to be the next head coach of Michigan and I was fired up to be the coach at Michigan," Pitino said. "The athletic director at the time, who’s no longer there (Bill Martin), was playing squash and my wife came up, she just didn’t want me to go to the west coast, UNLV, and be away from the children. She agreed, okay let’s go to Michigan."
She eventually convinced him to change his mind, and due to one of Martin's squash matches, Pitino informed Michigan of his decision via voicemail.
"I tried to call the A.D. at Michigan between 12 and 1," he recalled. "I had a false name. I would give him a fake name and he would call me back. I couldn’t get a hold of him because he was playing squash. The secretary said he demands that he doesn’t get interrupted unless it’s an emergency and if you want you can leave a voicemail.
"I left a voicemail and went to Louisville and I’m really happy I did."
What qualifies as an emergency to Athletic Director Bill Martin?
- 50% off sale at Squash Unlimited
- Opportunity to hire nice man who wears turtlenecks but has no coaching acumen
- Molasses explosion
- 30% off sale at Squash Unlimited
- Member of immediate family diagnosed with rickets or beri-beri, ONLY rickets or beri-beri don't come to me with any of this scurvy business eat an orange for crissakes
- 1975 America's Cup highlights VHS arrives via Pony Express
- Champagne reaches 56.7 degrees
- Anything at all not related to the most important part of his job
People in charge of things are just in charge of them. There is not necessarily a reason.
Lewan draft stock. Doing okay you guys:
Michigan's Taylor Lewan matched the physical challenge presented by hated in-state rival Michigan State and their 6-6, 278 pound defensive end William Gholston. … Just as Lewan did in 2011, the Michigan left tackle controlled Gholston, demonstrating enough lateral agility and balance in his kick-slide to maintain the edge and the great length and strength to lock up his opponent. Gholston lacks the explosive burst to give Lewan a stiff challenge in pass protection but the Spartans also sent smaller, quicker pass rushers against Lewan, including linebackers on the blitz. Having only played on the offensive line since his senior season of high school, Lewan demonstrated the improvement in pass protection scouts are hoping to see from him to warrant the frequent comparisons he's gained to former Wolverine star Jake Long.
Lewan has specifically improved in his patience as a pass blocker, recognizing spin movies and sliding laterally rather than lunging. As he has throughout much of his career, Lewan was also consistently able to knock defenders off the ball in the running game. Despite his height, the 6-7, 310 pound Lewan played with good pad level, winning the battle of leverage against Gholston and other MSU defenders.
Let's hope he stays anyway.
Etc.: Quinton Washington picture pages WSG Campbell, Roh, and Floyd. John Beilein will live forever. John Beilein says things to media members. Downing, Motte, and Compher feature in USHL prospects article. How do improve NCAA rule enforcement: outsource it. How Northwestern busted the 80 yard Venric Mark TD. Denard Robinson's mechanics. Injuries hit Horford (apparently minor) and McGary (minor, still recovering).
|WHAT||Michigan vs Nebraska|
8:00 PM EST
October 27th, 2012
|THE LINE||Nebraska -2|
|WEATHER||cloudy, dry, around 40|
Is that corn in your pocket or… oh, I see. It's corn.
Run Offense vs Nebraska
COME TO NEBRASHHHHKA STATTE
Last week Michigan kept its head above water against an excellent run defense on the strength of two big gains. One of them came when MSU's crappy defensive tackle got creased on a run blitz. The other was a quarterback draw late when Michigan State backed off, uncharacteristically, and paid for it. With those two runs, Michigan crested 5 YPC against a top ten—maybe top five—defense. Without them, they barely exceeded 3 YPC.
Is that good? Bad? Ah hell I don't know. Denard is Denard and will rip off big gains if you keep feeding him the ball, and Toussaint's big run is the kind of thing that happens to super aggressive defenses when they get creased (and a walk-on WR gets his block on). In the end, 5 YPC is fair. Nard gonna Nard.
The good news is that Nebraska's defense is emphatically not Michigan State's.
Except when it is sometimes I guess? Nebraska blew it badly on one 80-yard Venric Mark touchdown. Other than that, Northwestern muddled along at about the same rate Wisconsin did. In half of Nebraska's games against BCS competition, they're Michigan State. In half, they're roadkill.
If there's a pattern you can draw from four games, it's spread 'n' shreds leaving tread marks all over the Cornhusker D. UCLA QB Brett Hundley is a run threat (9 carries for 66 yards) and opened Jonathan Franklin up for a 216-yard blitz. Braxton Miller almost cracked 200 himself and opened it up for Carlos Hyde to hit 140. Though not included in the table above, even winless Southern Miss saw quarterback Anthony Alford hit 84 yards on 15 carries… before getting pulled because he was also 1 of 5 for six yards. The Eagles hit 4.6 YPC on the day.
In a bizarre move, Northwestern all but abandoned the Kain Colter running game in favor of having Trevor Sieman throw 35 times, so they fit more in the Wisconsin mold than UCLA/OSU:
Nebraska made it very clear that they'd sit back in man free all game, and the Wildcats tried to beat them over the top time and again even though the Husker corners were locking down the Northwestern wideouts and quarterback Trevor Siemian lacked accuracy on his deep ball. The Wildcats threw 37 times and ran 38 times despite (1) playing against an awful run defense, and (2) holding a lead for most of the game.
WTFitz. Nebraska did hold Colter down on his few carries, FWIW.
Will Nebraska be able to do the same to Denard? Well… I'm doubtful. Ace saw Nebraska blitz twice in the first half and lay back in a bend-but-don't-break shell, likely because the shell-shocked Huskers were going back to basics after the OSU debacle. Nebraska's safeties, like Michigan State's, are active hitters in the run game, though, so if they're lining up nine yards off the LOS and coming down hard in an effort to replicate MSU's gameplan, trouble may ensue.
Emphasis on "may"—MSU's aggressiveness was effective instead of disastrous because Denicos Allen and Max Bullough are fast as hell and the MSU safeties are pretty good, as well. Nebraska only avoided a couple of long Denard Robinson touchdowns last year because Lavonte David played the same role as the MSU linebackers did last week: guy who makes shoestring tackle just as you're standing up to yell "GOOOOOOOOO." Lavonte David's not around anymore, and the Nebraska LB corps misses his athleticism. They're not bad—except when they are of course—but if a gap gets vacated or the sideline is tested they are less likely to be able to mitigate that damage with a super fast tackling machine. Stafford is a boom or bust SS, too, and could at any time wander off in the wrong direction as Denard screams upfield.
Key Matchup: Denard's ankles versus opponent's outstretched arms. There are going to be two or three moments in the game where Denard is setting sail for the endzone. Where you at, Will Compton? Are you Lavonte David walking through that door?
[Hit THE JUMP for WHAT THEY CAN SCORE THAT AIN'T RAIGHT]
About Last Weekend:
Michigan State 10, Michigan 12
Apologies -- Spartyfreude is a little blurry. In any case, what are these people looking at? Oh I know. Anything but the scoreboard.
"You're good looking, and I'm good looking. We should be good looking together."
What TheOnlyColors and MaizeNBrew should do if they haven't done so already.
The Road Ahead:
Nebraska (5-2 overall, 2-1 B1G)
Last game: Nebraska 29, Northwestern 28 (W)
Recap: When a team plays Northwestern, no deficit is too great to overcome. This is a fundamental law of football. With his team down 12 points in the fourth quarter, Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez (27/39, 342 yards, 3 TD) led the Huskers offense on two 80-yard touchdown drives to eke out a win. The Wildcats had an opportunity near the end to regain the lead but, as they are wont to do, they missed a long field goal.
For Michigan, this wasn’t the ideal outcome. While Northwestern had a nice streak going and remains one of the B1G’s two bowl-eligible teams, it would have been preferable to contend at home with a hypothetical one-conference-loss Northwestern team for the division rather than go to Lincoln to play a critical tie-breaker (sort of) game against a one-conference-loss Nebraska. If Michigan loses this weekend it no longer controls its own destiny. But you knew that.
So let’s focus on why the Huskers were down 12 to the Wildcats in the first place. For one, they didn’t have much rhythm on offense until Martinez went pass-happy against Northwestern’s defense, which plays a 4-3-Gibson scheme. The run game never broke anything big with the longest run being 15 yards. Martinez and RB Ameer Abdullah both got nearly 20 carries a piece and averaged 4.5 ypc, though the Wildcats have a decent run defense, so that’s not a total surprise.
Defensively they did a good job against most aspects of Northwestern’s attack – they kept Trevor Siemian (15/35, 116 yards, 2 TD) to 3.3 ypa and almost limited the Wildcats otherwise effective run game to less than three yards per carry … had it not been for one spectacular bust that allowed an 80-yard TD run by Venric Mark (16 carries, 118 yards, 1 TD) from a triple-option handoff up the middle. That the Blackshirts linebackers busted an assignment is an understatement.
As a final note, Nebraska turned the ball over three times over the course of the game. They fumbled twice (the one at the end was maybe meaningless) on offense and had one epic puntmuffin, which led immediately to a Northwestern touchdown.
Huskers fans prefer to downplay these mistakes, particularly the ones on special teams, when projecting how their team will do against upcoming opponents. Against Michigan, though, they won't be able to afford to play sloppy no matter how many yards they end up racking up on offense.
This team is as frightening as: The Detroit Tigers. Brilliant when in a groove but somewhat subject to horrifying derailment. Fear level = 6 +/-2.
Michigan should worry about: Limiting mistakes on the road at night. I think Brady Hoke and Al Borges have that down at the infuriating expense of offensive play calls that adjust intelligently to defensive scheme. This means that Michigan is just going to have to wait for the opponent to make mistakes on defense. I’m actually kind of okay with that in this case, because …
Michigan can sleep soundly about: I do not believe in Nebraska’s defense. Their most impressive performance to date has been against nobody. Serious. They’ve failed to hold any of their BCS opponents under 27 points. Maybe they did well against Wisconsin by holding Montee Ball to 90 yards rushing on 32 carries, but that was when the Badgers were going through an offensive crisis that resulted in the defenestration of their offensive line coach.
Maybe the Huskers have an okay secondary and a couple playmakers in the front seven, but that does not an Al Borges Denard Fusion Cuisine-busting defense make.
When they play Michigan: Michigan will try to win on the ground; Nebraska will try to win through the air. The Huskers have at least four viable receiving options in their receivers and tight ends, and it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the secondary to stick to their assignments, particularly if Raymon Taylor isn’t 100%. Plus, Michigan is overdue for giving up a big WTF play or two on defense. On the bright side, if the Huskers can’t do it, no one left on the schedule save Ohio State will be able to.
Next game: vs. No. 22 Michigan.
Where have you gone, perfect-passin' Taylor?
Nebraska needed two touchdowns in the final six minutes to eke by Northwestern on the "road," 29-28, last Saturday. The game wasn't nearly as close as the score would indicate, however, as it took three Husker fumbles—two on muffed punts—to nearly negate a 543-301 total yardage advantage. For most of the game, Northwestern's best offense was to punt to Nebraska and dive on the football.
The first seven minutes of the game and the final two minutes were cut off, respectively, by the Ohio State-Purdue overtime and my DVR (note to self: extend recording an hour, not 30 minutes), and there's no torrent available, so this breakdown covers the middle 51 or so minutes.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? The Husker offense leans heavily spread-run, with the vast majority of the snaps coming out of the shotgun except in short-yardage situations, when they usually go I-form.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? A team that runs as much as Nebraska is going to show both gap and zone blocking concepts. They run a fair amount of inside and outside zone, but also showed some interesting ways to get Martinez on the edge with pulling linemen (see the play breakdown below).
Hurry it up or grind it out? Nebraska had a slightly above-average pace last year and looks to be in the same range this year; they're not a sprint-to-the-line spread squad.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): You're likely pretty familiar with Taylor Martinez, who currently sits behind only Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller in the rushing standings among Big Ten quarterbacks. He's always been a very solid runner, with speed only surpassed by Denard among B1G QBs, and he broke a surprising number of tackles against Northwestern. The threat he provides with his legs makes the Husker offense very difficult to defend—I'll give him an 8, and that could easily be a 9.
Dangerman: With running back Rex Burkhead likely out of the game this weekend, Martinez becomes the focal point of the Husker offense. Another player to watch is sophomore wideout Kenny Bell, currently leading the team in receiving with 26 catches for 540 yards (20.8 ypc) and five touchdowns. He's a tough cover, dangerous both going downfield or catching short passes and getting big YAC, and that's worrisome if Raymon Taylor is limited at all this weekend.
Zook Factor: Despite having one of the best rushing attacks in the country, Bo Pelini is quite conservative on fourth down, only going for it three times this year. The Huskers have converted twice, but the failure came against Northwestern, when they dialed up the same QB sweep that they ran on the previous play for seven yards—the Wildcats sniffed it out and stuffed in the backfield.
HenneChart: If you've listened to the podcast in the last couple of week, you know that the Big Ten's passing efficiency leader—by a wide margin, no less—is none other than Taylor Martinez. Yes, the very same Taylor Martinez who completed 56% of his passes with a 13/8 TD-to-INT ratio last year. T-Magic completed 27-of-39 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns against Northwestern. This must be a fluke, right?
Sure, part of Martinez's performance can be credited to Northwestern's craptastic secondary (107th in pass yardage, 54th in efficiency). However, most of it was due to improved mechanics and better decision-making. There were still flashes of the old T-Magic—back-to-back fourth-quarter passes earned the dreaded "Bad Read" label, and both were potentially game-sealing interceptions that were dropped by the Wildcats—but by and large he looks like a completely different quarterback.
[The rest of the breakdown goes after THE JUMP.]