by Dallas Jackson - 12/09/2005
Michigan: 7-4 (5-3) 3rd Big Ten
Nebraska: 7-4 (4-4) 2nd Big 12- North
Wednesday December 28, 2005 8:00 p.m.
When Michigan has the ball:
Michigan is third from the bottom in the Big Ten in terms of points per game (28.8), yards per game (382.6) and total rushing yards (1809), but somehow managed to lead the conference in time of possession (32:59). That will be the key for Michigan. Control the ball and the clock. Score on long drives and don't turn this into an up-and-down game.
Ankle and hamstring injuries to Mike Hart cost Michigan their feature back and marquee player at times this season. He was only able to play in seven of Michigan's eleven games, but should be well rested for this bowl game. The absence of Hart has caused problems for everyone including quarterback Chad Henne. Henne saw his stats dip dramatically from last season -- when Hart was available full time and rushed for over 1,400 yards. This season, the Michigan sophomore QB amassed 2,256 yards and 20 touchdowns, which were down from his freshman year tally of 2,743 yards and 27 touchdowns.
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Jason Avant, Michigan's lone consensus first team All-Big Ten player, is a great wide receiver with hands and speed. Avant was second in the Big Ten in receptions (74) and receiving yards (936). However it is still Hart that is the driving force behind the offense.
The Black shirts of Nebraska make their return to bowl play after missing last year's bowl season. This year's success or failure in the Alamo Bowl will be placed squarely on the shoulders of the defense. The Huskers ranked fourth in the Big 12 in points allowed (20.4) and yards allowed (326) per game.
A three-headed monster leads the Huskers into San Antonio, as sophomores Corey McKeon and Bo Rudd, and senior safety Dan Bullocks are top three on the team in tackles. McKeon and Rudd were great recruits and have spurred the defense's return to greatness, as they were not only tops on the team in tackles, but in the top three in tackles for a loss, sacks, interceptions and quarterback hurries. It will be up to them to keep the pressure up on Hart and Henne in this contest.
When Nebraska has the ball:
Nebraska is not an offensive powerhouse as in they were during the Tom Osborne era. In fact, in the second year with the west coast offense, Nebraska ranked ninth in the Big 12 in points per game (24) and tenth in yards per game (320.5) and were dead last in total rushing, barely making it over 1,000 yards as a team (1,001).
If you had to pick a playmaker, you would turn to RB Corey Ross. He led the team in rushing with 787 of the 1,001 yards the Huskers gained on the ground, and had four touchdowns. He was also second on the team in receptions with 40. While this is not the mark of a good west coast offense, no one said that Nebraska had one. Junior quarterback (first year playing) Zac Taylor is picking up the offense but needs to limit his turnovers, as the 10 interceptions he threw was fifth worst among Big 12 QBs.
Michigan can hold their own on defense. The Wolverines ranked fourth in a very tough Big Ten on defense, allowing just 19.3 ppg, and only allowed more than 25 points once this season.
Michigan has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, facing eight bowl teams this year. Senior and first team All-Big Ten defensive tackle Gabe Watson will be in charge of making sure Nebraska's already weak running game does not get going, as well as taking on double teams to free up LaMarr Woodley to rush the passer. Woodley will be attempting to put pressure on Taylor and force him into poor decisions.
Michigan has made 20-of-26 field goal attempts on the season with a long of 47 yards, only attempting two field goals beyond 47.
The punt game for Michigan is above average. A 38.8 per punt average is good, but what gets them over the top is the 3.8 yards allowed per return. Ross Ryan also has 19 fair catches and 15 kicks downed inside the 20; turning over field position is a good possibility with this unit.
The Wolverines continue to have the dynamic return game that has been a Michigan staple for years. Following in the tradition of Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson is Steve Breaston. Breaston averaged 26.3 yards per return on kickoffs including a 95 yard touchdown, as well as 12.9 yard return on punts.
Nebraska is about equal to the Wolverines in the kicking department. Cornhusker kicker Jordan Congdon was 18-for-22 on the season, but his long was only 41 yards - this was his longest attempt as well. Strangely, three of his misses have been inside of 28 yards.
The punt game is a strong suit for Nebraska, as they are averaging a Big 12-best 45.9-yard per punt average from Sam Koch. Koch was fourth in the nation in punting and can make a short field for opponents.
The return game for the Huskers pales in comparison to that of Michigan. The Huskers have not taken a kick back all season, but have long returns of 62 on a punt and 57 on a kickoff.
Bowl officials had to be quite happy with the pairing of these two storied football programs. Michigan and Nebraska would not have been odds on favorites to meet in this game at the beginning of the season. Michigan was to be in competition for their third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, and Nebraska was a program in flux; they are now headed directly for one another in San Antonio.
Michigan is young, but has gained plenty of experience facing a tough schedule - in and out of conference -- and a plethora of injuries.
Nebraska is still in the process of taking on Bill Callahan's personality and as he gets his recruits the program should return to glory.
This game will pit two good defenses against one another, with the possibility of the game being decided by specials teams looming large.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.