ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
ANN ARBOR -- Their quarterback is more likely to trample you with his legs than knife you with his arm, and their running game ranks in the top 15 nationally. They're 8-2 overall, 4-2 in the Big Ten, and are dangling by a whisker in the Legends division. Offensively, they're averaging 32 points per game, and defensively, they're yielding 190 passing yards.
Does that description pertain to Michigan? Or Nebraska? Yes -- to both.
No. 20 Michigan and No. 17 Nebraska, which meet at noon Saturday at Michigan Stadium, mirror one another in several statistical fronts and in style of play. Taking this angle even further, the head coaches in this affair spent their formative years in the state of Ohio -- Michigan's Brady Hoke hailing from Kettering, and Nebraska's Bo Pelini, a Youngstown native.
"You look at the statistical information between both teams -- which I'm not real big into -- and there's a lot of similarities in rushing offense, and scoring, and defensively," Hoke said. "[Nebraska's] a team that's going to play with great passion. I think Bo does a nice job with the Black Shirt defense and the physicalness they want to play with."
The Wolverines, who are 6-0 at home, can increase their win total to nine for the first time since Lloyd Carr's final season in 2007, and, in turn, enter Ohio State week feeling good. To do that, they'll have to conquer their replica. Like UM quarterback Denard Robinson, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez is a threat to take off running, which he's done for 768 yards and nine touchdowns, or turn and hand the ball to bruiser Rex Burkhead, whose 1,072 yards are third most in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers run game is 12th most productive in the country -- one spot ahead of UM -- and they gobble large chunks of yards on option runs and zone reads. To counter, UM must be disciplined defensively, Hoke said, and not get lured into traps by pursuing the wrong runner. A new wrinkle will be added to the game plan, Hoke offered, "to take advantage of leverage."
"They're really going to test your discipline," safety Jordan Kovacs said. "I think guys have to read their keys. You have to be in the right place at the right time or else athletic guys like Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead make you pay. Our discipline is definitely going to be tested."
UM's most direct path to a Legends title is to win out and cross its fingers that Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) loses Saturday at home to Indiana in a game it's favored to win by 28 points, and again next week at Northwestern. It's a grim scenario for the Wolverines -- to be optimistic. If UM and MSU win Saturday, the Spartans will score the title outright. Nebraska will be crowned champion if it wins Saturday and next week versus Iowa, and MSU loses once. The Cornhuskers possess the tiebreaker with MSU based on their head-to-head win last month.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo