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Nebraska vs Michigan - Winning Is In The Differences

Tomorrow is another Saturday, another game in which we'll have to hear more about Taylor Martinez' ugly throwing motion. Were we to making a drinking game out of it, we'd all be dead drunk by the second quarter.

Wait... you're thinking.. what if Tim Beck doesn't call that many passes?

It doesn't matter. The announcers will still be talking about it and if you happen across our opponent's online forums before, during, and after the game, they'll be talking about it too. They won't know much about what Nebraska runs for an offense, but they'll damn sure be on top of the Martinez "chicken wing" throwing motion.

That's what's a little funny about comparing Martinez to Denard Robinson. Robinson's throwing motion isn't nearly as ugly, but he has as much difficulty in throwing an accurate pass as anybody in the nation that isn't named Joe Bauserman. If you think that's not fair, consider that both quarterbacks have comparable completion percentages, Martinez at 57.7%, Robinson at 53.5%. Sad thing is - Martinez' might be higher if his receivers didn't drop so many damned balls.

Martinez vs Robinson

Heading up to the game you have no doubt read many, many articles comparing Martinez and Robinson. Nearly all of them (including mine) have told you that they're totally alike, that they're both dynamic players who hurt offenses with their legs. As its base it's true but the fact is they're completely different players.

Give Martinez an opening and he's gone. He's not going to do much dodging. He's going straight up the field with an incredible burst of speed. Compare that to Robinson. Get him into a jam and he'll bob and weave his way out of it. The difference in play style isn't solely because Robinson has better lateral movement than Martinez - it's also because he's better at making split-second decisions.

Keeping that in mind, you're forced to realize that each defensive coordinator will approach this game with different means in mind. Both will want to pressure the opposing quarterback. Michigan's Greg Mattison will want to pressure Martinez by getting up the field quickly, forcing Martinez into making quick (read: bad) decisions. Martinez had shown a tendency to make an errant pitch or two on the option per game, and this week he must be aware of the zone blitz where (simplified) Michigan will drop their defensive linemen into coverage. If Martinez isn't expecting it, he'll be under blitz pressure from linebacker and throw the ball directly into the defense.

Nebraska's Carl Pelini will want to pressure Robinson but make sure to contain him. That means playing sound gap defense and being creative with the blitzing. Beware the quarterback draw, Carl. 

Running Games

Nebraska has had problems stopping the run all season. It was a problem before Jared Crick was lost for the season, and it's potentially worse now that Thad Randle is out and Chase Rome has been playing injured. If I were Michigan, I'd be running Fitzgerald Toussaint right at the Nebraska defense and make them prove they can stop me because right now I don't think they can. Not for four quarters. If they bring an extra man up in run support, all the better. More chances for Robinson to improvise, more opportunities for big hits on play action. 

It's anybody's guess as to what Tim Beck will do this week on offense. Last week he lined Rex Burkhead up under center and had Martinez play as an I-Back and ran some option plays. One thing he can't do is line up Burkhead as a back and repeatedly run him at the interior of the Michigan defense. This isn't a game in which Nebraska can wear out the opposing defense over four quarters. They're too good (see: Penn State).

If Nebraska is to win this game, they're going to have to mix up the play calling like they did against Penn State. Michigan hasn't seen an option offense like Nebraska's and it's anyone's guess as to how they'll respond. The beauty of Beck's option attack is the number of different nuances that can be used, i.e., the speed option, zone read, the load speed option (additional blocker), and play action out of option movement.

Again, the differences - Michigan shouldn't have to do anything fancy to beat Nebraska's defense, but Nebraska must have a healthy mix of playcalling to beat Michigan's defense.

Details Details

Remember all them years when fans of other conferences would tell us that the Big 12 really didn't play defense, and we'd of course respond and point out how great all the quarterbacks were? Then we'd watch games were Bo Pelini used seven defensive backs for 40% of the game.

Before this season began, it was pointed out that the B1G plays a much more physical brand of football. Ha! We (I) said! We already play physical football! No big deal! Hmmmm.....

Do you suppose that's the reason for the increased number of injuries this season? Just wondering. Maybe Pelini could have done a better job of preparing the team. Not sure how, though, maybe he should have had cars run over them repeatedly on the practice field during the offseason. 

Below are the relative statistics: 

Nebraska Michigan B1G - UNL B1G - UM National Rank-UNL National Rank-UM
Rushing Offense 237.7 235.9 2 3 13 11
Passing Offense 171.4 200.4 10 7 101 84
Total Offense 404.1 436.3 4 3 50 33
Scoring Offense 32.9 32.3 2 3 36 37
3rd Down Conversions 44.9 49.21 5 3 37 11
Red Zone Conversions 90.91% 80.43% 2 8 11 T-67
Rushing Defense 161.3 130.9 8 5 66 41
Pass Defense 190.7 191.3 5 6 21 22
Pass Efficiency Defense 116.48 120.03 5 6 29 39
Total Defense 352 322.2 7 6 38 17
Scoring Defense 22.2 16.1 7 3 36 7
Opponent 3rd Down Conversions 42.38 36.84 8 4 83 39
Opponent Red Zone Conversions 79.31% 66.67% 4 1 45 1
Net Punting 38.6 32.8 3 12 27 112
Punt Returns 9.1 10 5 4 48 39
Kickoff Returns 26.5 19.4 2 10 6 102
Turnover Margin 0.1 0.1 8 7 52 51
Takeaways (Fum+INT) 15 23 T-7 T-1 80 14
Giveaways (Fum+INT) 14 19 T-6 11 26 78
Penalty YPG 48.3 35.8 8 3 53 11


Again, we see many many similarities between these teams.

Michigan has been much better at taking the ball away from their opponents, but they've been very generous at giving it back to them, too, so that ends up in a wash. 

Scary areas - third down conversions. On defense - Nebraska hasn't been so great at stopping them, Michigan has been pretty decent at picking them up. Again - if I'm Michigan I'm running the ball. A lot. 

Strength vs Strength - Nebraska has been pretty darned good at converting in the red zone, while Michigan is #1 in the nation in red zone conversion defense. 

The Stat You Wish Was Better - Penalty YPG. - This is quite improved over last season, but if we're going to consistently challenge for Big Ten titles, we're going to have to be a much more disciplined football team. The saddest thing about this stat is - this is entirely under the team's control. Opponents don't cause you to commit penalties. That's all on you. 

Stat You Don't See - Dropped Balls. - I couldn't go this entire article without mentioning this, right? It'd be nice to see this stat, though, just to see if Michigan's combination of Junior Hemingway, Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree drops as many balls as Nebraska's Brandon Kinnie, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner

Then again, maybe it's best they don't have this stat available.