Michigan hasn’t played in Lincoln since 1911, but the Wolverines’ coach has a fairly recent history at Memorial Stadium. Brady Hoke coached Ball State in 2007, when the Cardinals nearly upset then-No. 24 Nebraska. The Huskers were coming off a deflating home loss to top-ranked USC, and they escaped with a 41-40 victory against Hoke’s team when the Cardinals missed a field goal in the closing seconds. Ball State finished 7-6 that season; Nebraska was 5-7.
THE 900 CLUB
It’s a pretty elite club, those college football teams that have recorded 900 all-time wins. Michigan. That’s it. The Wolverines, with their 12-10 victory last week against rival Michigan State, became the first team in NCAA history to reach 900 victories. Michigan is No. 1 in all-time wins, followed by Texas (863), Notre Dame (860) and Nebraska (851).
Michigan coaches haven’t been shy about playing true freshmen this season. The Wolverines began the year by playing 12 true freshmen against Alabama, and also played 12 against Massachusetts, Notre Dame and Purdue. Eleven true freshmen played against Air Force, Illinois and Michigan State.
WOLVERINES ON OFFENSE
Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis cautions that Michigan’s offense is more than just quarterback Denard Robinson.
That said, Papuchis also pointed out that Robinson accounts for roughly three-fourths of Michigan’s total offense.
Robinson ranks first in Michigan history in total offense, with 10,324 yards, and he’s a bigger threat to Nebraska with his feet. He’s averaging 128.6 rushing yards per game and 7.4 yards per carry through seven games.
“The quarterback-run game comes down to being disciplined, being assignment-sound,” Papuchis said. “Everybody has a responsibility and a role, and when everyone carries out their role, we have a great chance to have success. When one guy misses a gap or fit, that makes it difficult.”
Michigan’s other main threats on offense are running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. Last year against Nebraska, Toussaint had a career-high 29 carries for 138 yards, but he’s yet to surpass 85 rushing yards in a game this season.
Gallon leads Michigan in receptions (16), receiving yards (309) and receiving yards per game (44.1). He’s had two 71-yard catches, one against Alabama, the other against Illinois.
“I really think they’re pretty talented across the board. They present some challenges just because of the weapons they have,” Papuchis said.
“If you watch their film, you have to take away what 16 (Robinson) does best, (but) they’re dynamic at a lot of different levels.”
WOLVERINES ON DEFENSE
Michigan is the front-runner to win the Legends Division because of its defense.
The Wolverines rank first in the Big Ten and fourth in the nation in pass defense, allowing an average of 143 yards per game. Nebraska averages 233 yards passing, but no team has surpassed 200 passing yards against Michigan this season.
Senior safety Thomas Gordon and sophomore defensive back Raymon Taylor have each intercepted two passes in Michigan’s last four games, part of the Wolverines’ six interceptions in that span. Taylor returned his 63 yards for a touchdown at Purdue -- the first points scored by Michigan’s defense this season.
Over its last five games, Michigan has held its opponents to 9.8 points per game, while allowing only three touchdowns (that’s over the last 20 quarters). Notre Dame, on Sept. 22, was the last team to score a rushing touchdown against the Wolverines.
Teams have had a difficult time converting on third down against Michigan, too. The Wolverines’ opponents in Big Ten play are a combined 10-of-42 on third down, for a 23.8 percent conversion rate.
Alabama is the only team to score a first-quarter touchdown against Michigan this season.
WOLVERINES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Michigan has been able to flip the field on occasion this season, thanks to junior punter Will Hagerup, who leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth in the nation with a 47.3 yards-per-punt average. His longest punt is 62 yards.
Freshman Dennis Norfleet is the Wolverines’ main return man on both kickoffs and punts. He’s returned 21 kickoffs for a 23.5-yard average, and his 42-yard punt return against Illinois was, believe it or not, the longest punt return by a Michigan player in four years.
Matt Wile’s 48-yard field goal in the second quarter against Michigan State was his first career attempt and the longest made by a Michigan kicker in two years. Brendon Gibbons, the Wolverines’ first-team kicker, has made seven straight field goals. He also handles kickoffs.