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October 24, 2012Michigan will face Nebraska Saturday night in Lincoln with a chance to put a stranglehold on the Legends Division, but the Wolverines are currently a 2.5-point underdog. The Cornhuskers' offense is a big reason why.
Nebraska came from behind to steal a win at Northwestern, scoring twice late in the fourth quarter, and also came back from a large deficit to beat Wisconsin earlier this year.
Michigan continued physical practices in preparation, head coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday.
"That's a very physical football team we're going to play, in a tough environment," he said. "They present some problems with the dual threat at quarterback, his improvement. He's 67 percent or so completions, and they have a stable of running backs that do a nice job within their offense. They execute defensively, negative plays. That's something they've been very good at, sacks, tackles for loss. They try to get you off schedule that way.
"For us, the environment, we've got to handle that. I think we've had enough of those situations and are mature enough to do that, but we can't have any confusion at the line of scrimmage, both sides of the ball or in the huddle. It takes a focus and a real concentration to be able to do that."
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Tuesday there were plenty of similarities between Michigan's offense and Nebraska's. Hoke wouldn't go so far as to say Nebraska's was the most complete the Wolverines had faced this year.
"Statistically they're as good as anybody in the league, points and all that," he said. "But Alabama's pretty complete. Air Force is pretty complete in what they do. Purdue has skill. They have a scheme they believe in that's pretty good. Statistically, yeah, you'd look at it that way. But the most? That's a pretty strong word.
"The difference [between us and them] right now is a little more of the two back sets they've run, the power, the iso, the lead play. They are probably a little more unbalanced, bingo formation, the sideline formations. The ride play and the jet and those things are similar, and some of the play actions are very similar. We go against Denard Robinson every day at some point situationally, but we've seen a lot of it in the course of the year."
The environment will be a challenge, but Hoke believes the offense can rise to it.
"On the road, there are a lot of things you always have to look at it," he said. "If you study football, management of football, that's always been one thing most coaches will talk about is taking the crowd out by being able to run the football and move the chains that way. But however we can move them, we want to try and move them."
"His hard work - every day he's probably the first one here, the last one to leave," Hoke said. "He knows what the plan is and he has a great desire and love to play football. That was pretty evident from day one. You love to see guys like that who have worked hard paying off for them."
"Joe's had a pretty daggone good stretch here," Hoke said. "He's practiced well, looking at some of the isos and some of the things he's doing in practice and then out there on the field."
"I can't say they're playing him differently, but they do know and recognize when he's in the game," he said. "He can run better routes, all those things, use his fundamentals and technique."
"It changes dramatically from a formational standpoint depending on who you're playing and what they want to do," Hoke said. "We threw the ball 29 times. I wouldn't say that's real conservative, in my opinion. Maybe for Al, that may be conservative and probably is.
"We've got to do whatever we can to win a football game. Whatever it takes, if we've got to throw it and we win, so be it, but we are a team that wants to run the football."
Hoke meets with Borges twice a week to talk about the plan.
"We talk about what he sees, why you would do this, why you would do that," he said. "We have our discussions. I do the same with Greg Mattison. I'm in with Greg most of the time, just because I coach the two guys inside, so I've got to be there. He'll fire me."
"We wanted to make sure we were doing the things we wanted to do without them dictating too much that we wanted to make checks," Hoke said. " Sometimes they'll talk you in to checking with different looks, you get out of it while there's some down and distance tendencies at times. You don't want to go to your other check because they're going to not do what you think they're going to do.
"You'll find people do that. There are some people who disguise very well, and they change in and out of looks very well. They're one of the better ones, which at times can work out for you if you don't check. That's why didn't, obviously."
"They thought everything was fine," he said. "Like they said, you were out there, you could have run the ball. He was right, and we didn't. They're the ones who study and look at it. We do, but not like they do. Bill Corolla, the director of those guys, does a nice job with it."
"We could do that," he said. "It's not a bad idea."
"Any guy when they have a decent year, whatever it might be, you've got people's attention a little more," he said. "Are they keying on him specifically all the time? No. That's why you change personnel groups, formations, trying to get leverage on people. At times we have it, at times we haven't blocked as well as you'd like. He's coming into his own a little bit."