GAME NOTES: The Nebraska Cornhuskers are set to attack Michigan's perfect record at home under Brady Hoke, as they square off with the Wolverines in a Big Ten Conference tilt on Saturday.
Nebraska visits Michigan Stadium after a Hail Mary pass from Ron Kellogg II caught by Jordan Westerkamp in the end zone lifted it to a stunning, 27-24 home win over Northwestern last week. The win helped the Cornhuskers avoid their first losing streak of the season and improved their Big Ten record to 3-1 to stay in second place in the Legends Division standings. Coach Bo Pelini's team also rose to a 6-2 overall last week to become bowl eligible.
Michigan is coming off a disheartening, 29-6 loss at Michigan State that marked its second setback in three outings. The Wolverines fell to 3-1 after a bye week under Hoke in the process. Now the team will return to Michigan Stadium, where is has gone 19-0 under Hoke.
This will be the ninth installment of the all-time series between Michigan and Nebraska. The Wolverines hold a 4-3-1 advantage after the Cornhuskers 23-9 victory in Lincoln in 2012. This is a crucial game in the divisional race as Michigan has a chance to wrestle away sole possession of second place from the visitors.
Nebraska has had little problem producing on the offensive side of the ball this season, as it averages 38.2 ppg and 467.6 ypg. Although Kellogg led the Huskers 83 yards in the final 1:14, before his 49-yard toss to Westerkamp as time expired, he will most likely not get a chance to follow up that clutch performance due to the return of starter Taylor Martinez.
The Cornhuskers are a much more efficient team when under the guidance of Martinez (667 passing yards, 117 rushing yards, 10 TDs, two INTs). The dual threat QB needs only 25 rushing yards to become the fifth signal caller with 7,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards in FBS history.
The Cornhuskers will continue to rely on the Big Ten's leading rusher, Ameer Abdullah, who has converted 157 carries into 1,108 yards and six touchdowns. Quincy Enunwa is Nebraska's most prominent wideout on the season with 34 catches for 467 yards and eight touchdowns. Kenny Bell (29 receptions, 341 yards, three TDs) is an adequate second option. Westerkamp's catch last week marked his first touchdown reception of the season.
The Cornhuskers have the eighth-ranked total defense in the league, allowing 399.9 ypg, but they are excellent at coming up with stops when needed, as their opposition has managed just a 28.2 percent success rating on third-down plays. The ability to lock down when needed has given Nebraska the fifth lowest scoring defense average at 24 ppg. Corey Cooper and David Santos are tied for the team-lead with 55 stops apiece. Randy Gregory has been a factor with 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
The Wolverines' offense seemed unstoppable as they entered their bout with the Spartans last week as they had averaged 48.3 ppg over their previous three games. Michigan could not overcome MSU's top notch defense as it passed for 216 yards and lost 48 yards on the ground. Quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked seven times by the Spartans defense, which ranks as the nation's top unit, resulting in the worst single-game rushing total in the school's history.
Through eight games, Gardner is averaging 307.9 yards of total offense to pace the conference and rank 16th nationally. Gardner has exhibited his versatility in 2013, completing 121-of-202 of his pass attempts for 1,989 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushing for 474 yards and nine touchdowns on 113 carries.
Fitzgerald Toussaint is the team's primary ball carrier, having logged 163 carries for 595 yards and 11 TDs. Jeremy Gallon is one of the most dynamic wideouts in the Big Ten, ranking second in both receptions (50) and receiving yards (898), while also grabbing seven touchdowns.
The Wolverines allowed MSU to tally 394 yards of total offense with 252 coming through the air. The Spartans earned 3.6 ypc on their rushing plays, which is slightly higher than the 3.2 ypc Michigan's opponents have averaged. Hoke's team will continue to have trouble getting stops if its pass defense, which ranks second to last among Big Ten schools (255.0 ypg) does not improve. Raymont Taylor is on top of the Wolverines' defensive leaderboard with 56 total tackles, while Desmond Morgan is just one shy of the team-lead. Taylor has also made three interceptions and Blake Countess is responsible for four picks.
The Wolverines may have looked dreadful a week ago, but their homefield advantage has been powerful in recent history. Nebraska needed a miracle play to survive its bout against a below average Northwestern squad. The Cornhuskers will have trouble against the Wolverines if Martinez doesn't return to form.
Ann Arbor, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - Ameer Abdullah ran for 105 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries and caught the game-winning score with just over two minutes to play, as the Nebraska Cornhuskers downed the Michigan Wolverines, 17-13, in a Big Ten Conference tilt at Michigan Stadium.
Tommy Armstrong threw for 119 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions on 11-of-19 passing for the Cornhuskers (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten). Quincy Enunwa snagged seven passes for 69 yards.
For the Wolverines (6-3, 2-3), Devin Gardner finished with 196 yards on 18- of-27 passing, also with a touchdown and no interceptions. Devin Funchess caught six balls for 66 yards and a score. Derrick Green was the team's leading rusher with just 11 yards on eight carries. This was Michigan's first home loss since 2010, ending a 19-game winning streak in Ann Arbor.
After connecting on a 21-yard field goal midway through the first quarter, the Cornhuskers added to their lead when Abdullah ran it in from eight yards out to put the visitors up 10-0 with just under three minutes to play in the opening quarter. A 27-yard field goal was the only offense that the Wolverines could manage in the first half, as Nebraska took a 10-3 advantage into the break.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Wolverines tied the score when Gardner found Funchess in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass.
Michigan recovered a fumble off a punt at the Nebraska 26-yard line with just over 10 minutes to play in regulation but couldn't move the ball far and had to settle for a 40-yard field goal that gave it a 13-10 lead midway through the fourth.
On the next series, Nebraska retook the lead, moving ball 75 yards on 14 plays and scored the winning touchdown on a five-yard pass from Armstrong to Abdullah with 2:03 to play. That drive included a fourth-down conversion that got the Cornhuskers down to the five-yard line.
Michigan turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession, and Nebraska was able to run out the clock and escape with the victory.
The Cornhuskers finished the game with 128 yards rushing while holding the Wolverines to minus-21 yards on the ground. Nebraska's defensive performance was helped by seven sacks.