- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- If there is any lingering doubt over the improvement Michigan has had under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, it is this.
Michigan’s magic number the past two seasons is 17.
Score at least 17 points and the Wolverines are 15-0 in his almost two seasons in Ann Arbor. Score fewer than 17 points and Michigan is 1-4, having reversed the trend only on Saturday in a 12-10 win over Michigan State.
This says more about the defensive resurgence with the Wolverines over the past two seasons than anything else. Consider, under Greg Robinson, Michigan allowed more than 17 points 11 times in 2010, going 5-6 and were 2-0 when Michigan surrendered 17 points or less. In 2009, Michigan was 3-7 when allowing 17 or more points, including 1-7 in the Big Ten.
Meanwhile, Michigan allowed only 17 or more points seven times last season, going 5-2. This season, Michigan has allowed more than 17 points only twice -- and not since the second week of the season.
Other than the Ohio State game to end the 2011 regular season and the final two minutes of the 2011 Notre Dame game, Michigan has not been involved in a high-scoring shootout on both sides.
This might change Saturday, as Nebraska has the No. 12 offense in the country, averaging 512.43 yards and 41.57 points a game. The Cornhuskers are equally inefficient on defense, allowing 357.57 yards -- which isn’t bad -- and 27.71 points a game, which is not good.
So Saturday could have the makings for an offensive shootout for the Wolverines, who have put up 45.75 points and 485.75 yards when facing teams not in the top 11 in scoring defense and top six in total defense, which they did in games against Alabama, Michigan State and Notre Dame.
In those four games, Michigan has averaged 6.5 yards a rush and 291.25 yards rushing.
While Michigan has been stout defensively this season, Saturday night could be an offensive spectacular. But if the Wolverines can hold Nebraska under 17 points, they’ll likely win.