There’s no way Nebraska can do it. Coming off back-to-back losses to Colorado and Troy, the Huskers don’t have the talent or wherewithal to pull of something like an upset over No. 19 Michigan in the Big House.
Let’s pretend, just for a few minutes, that Nebraska does have a chance to do the unthinkable. Ignore the fact that The Huskers dug themselves a 17-point hole to Troy last weekend. Don’t consider they’re the B1G’s most penalized team, averaging 86 penalty yards per game. Overlook the six turnovers in two games.
Forget that all of those things have happened with the luxury of home field advantage.
All of that erased from your memory?
The week leading up to the B1G opener between Michigan and Nebraska has been full of uncertainty. Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez is still listed as day-to-day and is likely to be a game-time decision. And the Wolverines’ top two running backs, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, were also listed as day-to-day, though Jay Harbaugh says he expects both guys to be available on Saturday.
We’re entering Week 4 of the college football season and Scott Frost is still searching for his first win as head coach at his alma mater. Michigan is 47-3 in its last 50 B1G openers and is a perfect 3-0 in such games under Jim Harbaugh. If the Wolverines notch a victory over Nebraska, they’ll own a winning record over every team in the B1G.
Maybe it’s just me, but some of the uncertainties, and storylines, leading up to Saturday’s matchup seems like the prelude to a closer-than-it-should-be type of matchup in Ann Arbor. Again, that’s if we’re ignoring most of the logic.
Essentially, this weekend boils down to two factors: whether Martinez takes any snaps for Nebraska and the contributions of Higdon and Evans.
It was just one game, but Nebraska’s offense looked so much better with Martinez under center. He completed 15-of-20 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown and rushed for an additional 187 yards and two scores. Would the freshman be able to have the same type of success on the road in one of the most unforgiving environments in college football? And after missing last week with that leg injury?
Unlikely, especially against the likes of a defense anchored by Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and Devin Bush. But Martinez certainly gives the Huskers’ offense a better chance to move the football.
The value Higdon and Evans, and their ability to go full speed, is significant too. The two Michigan running backs have combined for 400 yards and four touchdowns, accounting for 70 percent of the team’s rushing offense. How would the Wolverines’ ground game be affected if one, or both, weren’t at 100 percent?
Michigan obviously has other offensive weapons, more so than in recent years. Shea Patterson is throwing the ball better each week. Donovan Peoples-Jones is starting to flash some of his playmaking potential. Harbaugh’s offense has plenty of talent to still put points on the board.
Still, injuries to the top two ball-carriers are going to affect an offense, regardless of how skilled.
Those two factors could create the perfect storm in Ann Arbor. And maybe, just maybe, Frost would walk out of the Big House with his first win at Nebraska and the Huskers would hold a 5-4-1 advantage in the all-time head-to-head series.
But logic brings us back down to earth.
If you believe Jay Harbaugh, both running backs will be available this weekend. Evans might be in a limited role, but Higdon should be at full strength.
And reality tells us that Martinez probably won’t play this weekend. If Frost isn’t comfortable telling the media his freshman is available two days before kickoff, what’s the likelihood he’s ready to go on Saturday? Even the slightest risk of further injury would be enough for Frost to staple Martinez to the sideline.
Maybe Frost is taking a page out of his counterpart’s playbook. Perhaps Martinez is expected to start, but Nebraska doesn’t want to reveal it’s hand prior to kickoff.
It seems unlikely, just like Nebraska’s chances of upsetting Michigan.
Frost and the Huskers have to win their first game sometime. They just don’t have much of a chance of securing that victory on Saturday in the Big House.