Opponent Preview: Michigan
The Nebraska football team travels to Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday for a key Big Ten Conference matchup with the Michigan Wolverines.
Both teams bring a 6-2 overall record into Saturday's contest, while the Huskers are in second place in the Big Ten Legends Division standings with a 3-1 record in conference play, while the Wolverines are third in the Legends Division with a 2-2 conference mark. Both teams trail Michigan State, which is 5-0 in Big Ten play and has a bye this weekend before traveling to Lincoln.
In a pivotal game to Nebraska's hopes for a division title, Head Coach Bo Pelini said one of the keys to Saturday's game will be the Huskers' ability to contain quarterback Devin Gardner and the Michigan offense.
“Obviously it starts with their quarterback," Pelini said of Gardner's impact on the Wolverine offense. "He’s a playmaker. He’s a guy who is very athletic and can kind of do a lot of things to put him in position to make some plays.
"I think they have good, skilled people. I like their running back (Fitz Toussaint). He’s from just outside of Youngstown (Ohio), so you know he’s a really good football player. They’ve got some wideouts that can make some plays down the field. They’ve got some good skill.
"They use a number of different combinations up front on their offensive line. They’ve had a couple injuries. They have a really good tackle, an All-American tackle. He’s going to be as good as we’ve played against. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”
Michigan opened its season with five straight wins, but the Wolverines have lost two of their last three games and bring a 6-2 overall record into Saturday’s game. Michigan is in third place in the Big Ten Legends Division standings with a 2-2 mark in conference play. The Wolverines own Big Ten wins over Minnesota and Indiana and have lost both conference road games at Penn State and Michigan State.
Michigan is just 1-2 on the road overall this season, but the Wolverines are 5-0 at home. Michigan owns a 19-game home winning streak dating back to 2010, the longest active streak in the nation. The Wolverines are 19-0 at Michigan Stadium under third-year head coach Brady Hoke.
Offensively, Michigan is averaging 37.9 points per game this fall, and the Wolverines have been held below 24 points only once this season, a 29-6 loss at Michigan State last Saturday. Quarterback Devin Gardner possesses big play ability, as he ranks fourth nationally by averaging 16.4 yards per completion. Gardner is completing nearly 60 percent of his passes this year and has thrown for 1,989 yards, the second-highest total among Big Ten quarterbacks. Gardner has added 13 touchdowns, but he has also thrown 11 interceptions. Gardner has added 474 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns.
In the passing game, Jeremy Gallon has been Gardner’s favorite target, ranking second in the Big Ten with 50 receptions and 898 receiving yards. On the ground, Fitzgerald Toussaint has rushed for a team-high 595 yards, while scoring a Big Ten-best 11 rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, Michigan is allowing 27.0 points per game. Opponents are only averaging 105.1 rushing yards per game, but have found success through the air, throwing for 255.0 yards per game. Opponents have thrown 15 touchdown passes in eight games against Michigan, but the Wolverine secondary has also picked off 12 passes and Blake Countess is tied with Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste for the Big Ten interception lead with four picks.
Michigan leads the all-time series, 4-3-1, and the teams have split a pair of meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference prior to the 2011 season. In 2011, the 20th-ranked Wolverines upset the No. 11 Huskers, 45-17, at Michigan Stadium. Last season, Nebraska upset No. 20 Michigan in a 23-9 win at Memorial Stadium. Michigan leads the series 3-1 in Ann Arbor, with Nebraska’s lone win coming on Sept. 29, 1962, in Bob Devaney’s second game as NU’s head coach.
Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke
Brady Hoke is in his third season at Michigan, where he owns a 25-9 record. Overall, Hoke is in his 11th year as a collegiate head coach, and he boasts a 72-59 record. Hoke has Michigan eligible for a third straight bowl game this season, marking the fifth time he will take a team to a bowl game in his 11 seasons as a head coach. Hoke led Michigan to a Sugar Bowl title in his first season in Ann Arbor in 2011, when the Wolverines finished 11-2.
Prior to taking the Michigan job, Hoke was the head coach at San Diego State in 2009 and 2010. The Aztecs finished 4-8 in 2009 before improving to 9-4 in 2010, which culminated with a win in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Hoke spent six seasons at Ball State, his alma mater, from 2003 to 2008, when he led the Cardinals to a 34-38 record. Ball State had a losing record in each of Hoke’s first four seasons, before a 7-6 campaign in 2007, which included a 41-40 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln. The next season, Ball State finished 12-1 in Hoke’s final season.
Before becoming a head coach, Hoke was an assistant coach at Michigan from 1995 to 2002, ending his tenure as the Wolverines’ Associate Head Coach in 2002. Hoke also held assistant coaching positions at Oregon State (1989-94), Toledo (1987-89), Western Michigan (1984-86) and Grand Valley State (1983).