By the Numbers: Game 5 @ Nebraska


The Wolverines stood tall after Rutgers came out swinging in the B1G opener.  Michigan scored 31 unanswered points after a poor start and salted the game away in the 4th quarter for a 31-7 victory over the Scarlet Knights.

NEXT UP: @ Nebraska: SP+ 59th, 1.9

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 22.3, Michigan Win Probability 90%

While Michigan has climbed to the top of the SP+ rankings, Nebraska has a very similar profile to the Rutgers team that was just in Ann Arbor.  The Cornhuskers are also carried by a legitimate defensive unit and find themselves sitting 10 spots ahead of Rugers, for now.

Michigan Offense (13th) vs. Nebraska Defense (28th) 

For a second consecutive week, this matchup will likely play the biggest role in the final outcome of the game.  Nebraska has a stout, 3-man defensive line.  They also utilize a similar 3-3-5 scheme that has caused some blocking issues for Michigan’s run attack this season and last.  While the Cornhuskers have put up impressive defensive stats, Michigan’s offense will be the first significant test in the ground game. 

Through the air, JJ McCarthy had a solid bounce back performance last week.  Sherrone Moore schemed up a few beautiful chunk plays through the air early, but put those back into the garage almost immediately.  I think it would be wise to utilize the best designed plays early in this contest.  A couple early scores would be extremely valuable to take some of the starch out of that passionate Nebraska crowd. 

Michigan Defense (1st) vs. Nebraska Offense (85th)

As a program, Nebraska is going through a major transition as Matt Rhule tries to leave the Scott Frost era in the past.  Part of that transition appears to include a return to leaning on a running quarterback, and even some option looks.  In the first two games, both losses, turnover-worthy plays plagued quarterback Jeff Sims. Heinrich Haarberg has now taken over to lead the new QB rushing attack.

I would expect Michigan to be tested on the edges in this game.  I can’t imagine Nebraska trying to man up and block Kris Jenkins and the other defensive tackles.  Instead, look for the Cornhuskers testing Braiden McGregor, Josiah Stewart, and the other edge players with various option looks.  The three Wolverine linebackers will also be tested when Nebraska spreads their formation to isolate Haarberg with the LBs on draw plays. 

PREDICTION: Nebraska’s similarity to Rutgers is striking.  They want to lean heavily on a rushing attack that features the quarterback.  This is likely to keep the clock running, shortening this game yet again.  When there are fewer plays over the course of a full game, then the less talented team has a better chance to catch lightning in a bottle a few times to stay competitive.  

In terms of scheme, gameplan, and talent Michigan will have a huge advantage in each phase.  However, I do expect to see a somewhat sluggish start in the Wolverines’ first road trip.  In the past we’ve seen Michigan struggle early on the road, especially when moving out of the noon time slot.  This 3:30 kickoff in Lincoln poses the first mental challenge of this kind in the 2023 season.
Michigan 28 Nebraska 7 (PRESEASON Michigan 34 Nebraska 13)


  • SP+ Overall: 1st (↑2), 26.7
    • SP+ Offense: 13th (↑3), 36.8
    • SP+ Defense: 1st (↑1), 10.4
    • SP+ Special Teams: 16th (↓11), 0.3
  • AP Poll: 2nd (same), 1445
  • Coaches’ Poll: 2nd (same), 1495
  • CFP Rank: N/A

About Clint Derringer

@clint_derringer on Twitter U-M B.A. Sport Management & Communications ‘05 U-M M.S. Program & Project Management ‘18