Michigan vs. Nebraska: Behind enemy lines

Michigan will hit the gridiron on Saturday back in the Big House. The 9-0 Wolverines will face the 3-6 Nebraska Cornhuskers who have had a very rocky season.

Nebraska fired Scott Frost after the third game of the season and Micky Joseph has taken over as the interim head coach, but things haven’t gotten much better for the Cornhuskers.

Nebraska is currently 2-4 in conference play and it is on a three-game losing streak heading into Ann Arbor.

Michigan and Nebraska haven’t played one another a bunch. But the maize and blue does hold a 6-4-1 all-time record against the Huskers.

The Cornhuskers have dealt with some injury issues lately. Their starting quarterback Casey Thompson has been injured and it’s still not determined if he will suit up or not against Michigan. So we talked with Even Bredeson with Cornhuskers Wire to get to know Nebraska a little better.

Here were my five questions about Nebraska.

If Casey Thompson can't play, who should Michigan expect to see under center?

Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

If Thompson does not play this Saturday, you’ll see both of Nebraska’s backups take the field. Former Florida State quarterback Chubba Purdy would probably get the start, but you’ll also see Logan Smothers taking snaps.

In limited time this year, both Nebraska backups have struggled. Purdy is more of a traditional drop-back quarterback; however, he has the athleticism to play with his feet if needed. His indecisiveness in the passing game has limited this offense’s big-play capability since stepping in for Thompson. Wide receiver Trey Palmer has been the only significant threat in the Nebraska passing game this year, and if Michigan does its job and keeps him covered, Purdy will have a difficult time finding other targets to lock in on. It is a one-dimensional passing game right now.

Logan Smothers is a spread-option quarterback. He came to Nebraska with the hopes of fitting in to then head coach Scott Frost’s spread option style offense that he had run at UCF and Oregon. Unfortunately, the offense never took off in Lincoln, and now with Frost gone, Smothers is trying to figure out how to fit into offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s spread pass-heavy scheme.

The offense overall has been quite disjointed this season. It’s clear that Scott Frost did not want to surrender his playcalling responsibility but was forced to bring in a new coordinator before the start of the season. However, the decision to bring in Whipple, who had success with Kenny Pickett at Pittsburgh last season, and run a more spread past heavy attack was not the right fit. Even interim head coach Mickey Joseph has made it clear that he would like more direct runs and option-based plays to take advantage of Nebraska’s personnel.

How Nebraska can handle Michigan's No. 4 rushing offense?

Photo: Isaiah Hole

With the way Nebraska’s run defense has performed this year, I would be shocked if Michigan threw the ball more than 15 times. The Husker’s run defense is currently ranked 108th in the nation, giving up an average of 183 rushing yards a game and 4.5 yards a carry. I’d look for a Corum and the Wolverine running attack to get the ball early and often.

This is also one of the worst tackling Nebraska teams I can remember in recent memory. They do not do well wrapping up the ball carrier in the open field and have surrendered multiple big plays this season as a result. If Michigan’s athletes get the ball in space, we could see quite a few big plays on Saturday afternoon.

Who are some key players for Nebraska?

Ade Stadium In West Lafayette Ind

I would watch for wide receiver Trey Palmer and running back Anthony Grant. Palmer is the Nebraska passing game, with 53 catches for 819 yards and five touchdowns. Pro Football Focus has regularly ranked him as one of the most effective receivers in college football this year.

Anthony Grant is a former junior college player of the year who has run for 858 yards and six touchdowns, averaging about 95 yards a game. Grant is the best running back the Huskers have had in five years. He has a nice combination of speed and power and can run inside and outside.

Unfortunately, Nebraska’s offensive coordinator has been stubborn this season and continues to rely heavily on the passing game. Mark Whipple’s refusal to embrace the running game has led to some tension among the coaching staff. There have been multiple games this season where Grant got off to a hot start only to see his touches drop off due to Nebraska deciding to shift to their passing game.

Biggest strength of Nebraska

Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Again, I’ll go back to Anthony Grant and Trey Palmer. They’ve been the lone bright spots, in what has otherwise been quite a disappointing season. All of Nebraska’s real successes this year have taken place off the field and on the recruiting trail. There hasn’t been much on the field to be excited about

Can Nebraska pull off an upset?

Photo: Isaiah Hole

I’ll be blunt. I don’t see a path to an upset. Michigan would have to have a meltdown in some way, shape, or form for Nebraska to come away with a victory. This is a program that is broken right now. The Cornhuskers would need flawless execution in all three phases for four quarters. Given the current state of the team, I just don’t see that as a realistic possibility.

An offense where the scheme doesn’t fit the personnel, and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter because the offensive line can’t block. A defense that has struggled so much this year, the defensive coordinator was fired before the start of conference play. They can’t tackle in the open field and regularly fail to get stops on third down. As long as Michigan doesn’t get greedy, they’ll be able to average 5-6 yards a run and just methodically move the ball up and down the field all afternoon.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire