Much of Saturday’s matchup between No. 16 Nebraska and No. 20 Michigan is centered quarterbacks Taylor Martinez (Nebraska) and Denard Robinson (Michigan). Rightfully so because you have two dynamic runners who are also flawed passers.
Robinson, who is a junior, has rushed for 864 yards on 151 carries and 12 touchdowns. As a passer, he has completed 99 of 189 passes (52.4%) for 1,611 yards, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Robinson, however, has been slowed by a wrist injury ad has not had a 100 yard rushing game since Oct. 8, a game in which he rushed for 117 yards. He has thrown at least one interception in all but one game this season.
Martinez has rushed for 768 yards on 153 carries and nine scores. As a passer, Martinez has completed 121 of 227 (57.7%) for 1,688 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven picks. His completion percentage would be much high but has been victimized by dropped passes. Both are also complimented by outstanding running backs: Fitzgerald Toussaint for Michigan and Rex Burkhead for Nebraska.
The Nebraska offense has been a little Jekyl & Hyde but the defense has been very Jekyl & Hyde. The Blackshirt defense has also had its problems with mobile quarterbacks in the Bo Pelini era. Robinson would certainly qualify as not only mobile but lightning fast.
The key for Nebraska’s defense in this game is that, yes, Robinson will get his yards but the Huskers can ill-afford to give big plays and tackling in space becomes paramount. However, as good as Robinson is as a runner, his passing is suspect. Even more suspect than a segment of Husker fans think Martinez’s passing is. Mobile quarterbacks like Derek Carr (Fresno State), Keith Price (Washington), Russell Wilson (Wisconsin), Braxton Miller (Ohio State) and Kain Colter (Northwestern) gave the Huskers fits. However, Robinson is not near as skilled as a passer as that group.
The Pelini Brothers, however, will need to come with a plan of some kind to at least contain Robinson. Perhaps have safeties Austin Cassidy and Daimion Stafford closer to the line of scrimmage to help on zone reads? Perhaps have linebacker LaVonte David play the spy role? I must say I’ve never been a fan of that role because it takes that player away from defending other plays.
Defensive line play will be very crucial. That means have a gap sound mentality to take away cutback lanes. If you overpursue, Robinson will make you pay dearly. Of course, it is just as important to wrap up when tackling.
However, since the Husker defense has been so inconsistent, the offense can also play the role of defense by keeping Robinson on the sideline. I liked what Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck did in the Huskers 17-14 win over Penn State. For three quarters, Beck mixed up personnel and formations to not allow Penn State to get into their base defense. Nebraska will need that again Saturday.
Though Martinez has thrown the ball better lately, I guarantee you that Michigan’s defense will sell out to stop the run. To that, use some play action and misdirection to slow them down. Perhaps try some bubble screens.
The game comes down to limiting Robinson’s big plays and Beck calling a complete, four quarter game.
The fact that this game is on the road doesn’t bother me. Pelini teams seem to prefer the animosity of a rival stadium over the expectations of a home game.