As he discussed the Nebraska football program this week, Michigan’s cornerback got a certain twinkle in his eye.
His uncle, Norman Floyd, was a cornerback at South Carolina when the Gamecocks faced Nebraska in 1986 and 1987, and more than 25 years later, J.T. Floyd will travel to Lincoln with the No. 20 Wolverines to face Nebraska today at 8 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
He will consider the history that goes into traveling to Lincoln, but as a fan of college football and a self-proclaimed student of the game, Floyd — and his teammates — face a certain task: separating the emotion from the task at hand when playing in one of college football’s more fabled environments, against one of the more storied programs.
"The historical nod to Nebraska, that just comes with being a football fan," Floyd said. "But we have a job to do. I’m going out to compete and give 110 percent for Michigan."
That’s to be expected for Michigan, as tonight’s game will be pivotal for both teams. Michigan (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) is undefeated in Big Ten Conference play, a game ahead of Nebraska for the lead in the Legends Division. A win for Michigan will provide much-needed separation in the standings, but a win for Nebraska (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) could tilt the divisional race in the Huskers’ favor.
“It’s a big game for us because coach always says, ‘we’ve got to win on the road,’ and being road warriors is something we take full effect of,” Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree said. “We’ve got to do our job.”
Michigan has allowed only 23 points in its first three Big Ten games, but went without a touchdown in last week’s 12-10 win over Michigan State. While 12 points was was a far cry from blowout wins over Purdue and Illinois, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini won’t underestimate Michigan’s offense.
“[Michigan offensive coordinator] Al Borges is one of the best in the business,” Pelini said. “It’s well thought-out, they have playmakers, it starts with Denard [Robinson], but they’ve got a lot of football players. It’ll be a great challenge for our guys.”
Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez has steered Nebraska’s offense, which leads the Big Ten with 512 yards a game.
“He’s further ahead of where he was as a player last year in every way,” Pelini said of Martinez. “He continued to develop, and he’s gotten better the more experience he’s gotten. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
Running back Rex Burkhead’s availability for Nebraska is uncertain after suffering his third knee injury of the season last weekend but Michigan coach Brady Hoke doesn’t underestimate Nebraska’s offensive efficiency or its versatility — or its defensive prowess. Though seventh in the Big Ten in team defense, Nebraska leads the conference 22 sacks for a loss of 122 yards.
“They present problems with the dual threat of their quarterback, and his improvement, I think he’s at 67 percent or so on completions,” Hoke said. “They have a stable of running backs that do a nice job within their offense and executing defensively, negative plays, that’s something that they’re very good at, from sacks and tackles for loss, they try to get you off schedule that way.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.