- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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Michigan hopes to rebound this weekend against Nebraska. Here are five things to keep your eyes on as the Wolverines take the field in the Big House.
1. Playing Nebraska. Just Nebraska. Michigan has explicitly stated several times this past week that it is only focused on the Cornhuskers and that it forgot about the Michigan State loss last Sunday. However, whether that’s just guys talking or a reality remains to be seen. The Michigan State loss was embarrassing for the Wolverines, especially on the offensive side of the ball. And when the offensive line (specifically) takes the field on Saturday, it needs to make sure it’s only playing against Nebraska. If the Wolverines -- either consciously or subconsciously -- play against Nebraska and Michigan State on Saturday, stupid penalties and high-risk plays could ensue.
2. The offensive attack. The Michigan coaches have wanted to keep quarterback Devin Gardner’s hits to a minimum this season, but last weekend Gardner got beat up a bit according to himself and the coaches (if by “a bit” they mean completely and totally). Keeping him healthy is going to be even more important this last month. Just how Michigan decides to do that will be interesting. They definitely don’t want him taking off too much but without a solid run game, the Wolverines haven’t had much of another option outside Gardner. But watching how the coaches move forward with this problem -- that they knew they had all along but was at a “worst-case scenario” situation last weekend -- should be interesting.
3. Keeping Abdullah’s yardage to a minimum. Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah might be the best rusher the Wolverines have faced this season. He rushed for more than 1,100 yards as a sophomore last season and this year, he’s at that same mark with a good chunk of the season left. Michigan struggled against the run last weekend when it allowed MSU running back Jeremy Langford 120 yards on 26 carries. And the Wolverines will certainly get Abdullah’s best. He told the Omaha World-Leader this week that he’d love to “go up there and shut them up.” But on the field, the Wolverines are going to have to quiet him with pressure or else Abdullah could be spying his eighth 100-yard game of the season.
4. Tighter coverage in the secondary. In football, “close” and “almost” get you nowhere. And for most of the season, that’s exactly where the defensive backs have been in a lot of big situations. “There’s a difference between being in the right place as a secondary guy and competing,” Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “The bottom line is everybody on that field has a job to do and has an alignment and has a responsibility.” And youth can’t really be an excuse anymore. For the most part, experience took the snaps against MSU -- Raymon Taylor (18 starts), Thomas Gordon (34 starts), Courtney Avery (15 starts) and Blake Countess (15 starts). Sophomore Jarrod Wilson and freshman Jourdan Lewis also got in, so inexperience can be an explanation there, but overall, Michigan’s secondary needs to be tighter in their coverage so they can compete better in the passing game.
5. Jake Ryan making up for lost time. This will be Ryan’s fourth game back, but expect him to be splitting far less time this game than he has the last three. The depth chart announced an official move for Brennen Beyer to defensive end which probably means that Ryan should be given the freedom at SAM to really settle in to his game. He hasn’t shown any ill effects from his ACL injury and that leads one to believe (with how darn athletic he is) that he’s due a big game one of these weekends. Why not this weekend? Keep an eye on him.