Sage: Legends lead set to be claimed Saturday

first_imgYou’ve heard coaches say something like this before, “Play every game like it’s the championship.” On Saturday, it’s less of a clich?, because that is exactly what Michigan and Nebraska will do when they meet in Lincoln, Neb.It has taken eight weeks of football for true front-runners to appear in the Big Ten Legends Division, but these two teams look to be the ones showing they want it, and they both want it bad.What exactly is at stake in this upcoming Week 9 division matchup? The leg-up among the Legends group moving forward that could likely decide which team will head to Indianapolis to play in the second Big Ten Championship game and a spot in the Rose Bowl.No. 22 Michigan (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) holds a one-game lead heading into the game. A victory would keep them in sole control of their destiny, two games ahead and could also mean a last-week game against undefeated Ohio State could have no implication on their standing.But Nebraska (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) won’t be any less motivated Saturday. A Husker victory would result in a tie for the division lead, with the tiebreaker advantage in their favor after a head-to-head victory. With four very winnable games to end the season, this weekend’s game against the Wolverines is their biggest hurdle remaining.Entering the game, both teams will be riding momentum from their Week 8 victories. For Michigan, that came from beating rival Michigan State for the first time in four years after a last-second field goal to give the Wolverines a 12-10 edge over the Spartans. The Huskers also came back from a twelve-point deficit to beat Northwestern on the road by one.Yes, momentum and motivation play into a game, but what happens on the field is all that will truly matter.Here is how I see these teams matching up:Running ability in questionRanked fifth in the nation in rushing and leading the Big Ten with 279 rushing yards per game, Nebraska holds a clear statistical advantage. However, it is unknown if, or how much, their star tailback Rex Burkhead will play after he suffered a left knee injury against Northwestern. While losing him would be a blow to Nebraska’s offense, Ameer Abdullah and quarterback Taylor Martinez are both threats on the run. Michigan’s numbers fall not far behind the Huskers. Quarterback Denard Robinson currently ranks as the team’s leading rusher with 900 yards and six touchdowns. Junior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who has received 10 or more carries since Week 2, is the team’s lead back.Advantage: Michigan. Without a healthy Burkhead, Robinson’s dynamic running ability will edge out the threat’s of Martinez and Abdullah.Skipping stones: Robinson and MartinezAs aggressive as Robinson is on the run, his passing game does not even come close to matching that level. His 53.5 percent completion rate on the season is less-than-impressive.Now onto Martinez. When he is on, he is on fire. With 15 touchdown throws this season, two of which brought home a win this past weekend, Martinez is definitely a game changer for the Huskers. Martinez is ranked 15th nationally in passing efficiency with a 162.8 rating and has thrown just four interceptions. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week Monday for the third time this season.Martinez hasn’t been without his rough spots this year, most notably two weeks ago against Ohio State where he threw three interceptions. However, I suspect the Martinez we saw against the Wildcats will be the guy that shows up against Michigan with everything at stake. The Huskers have not lost a game in which he recorded zero interceptions. That will be key to a Nebraska victory.Advantage: Nebraska, and a significant one.Clear Defensive DifferenceThe ability to stop Martinez and the Husker offense is what will decide the outcome of Saturday’s game. Two years ago, Michigan owned one of the worst defenses in college football. Now we are looking at a group who in the last month has resembled a unit that could be one of the best in the nation. In Big Ten play, the Wolverines have given up 23 points total in their three games, meaning their opponents averaged just a measly 7.7 points in each game. Since a rough start to the season with a loss to No. 1 Alabama and a close game with Navy, Michigan has flipped the switch when they don’t posses the ball and after Week 2, have given up no more than 13 points in any game.What also is in the Wolverine defense’s favor is their experience with top teams this year. While losing to both Alabama and currently No. 5 Notre Dame, a powerhouse offense like Nebraska’s will not faze the experienced group.Nebraska’s defense has seen more struggles this season than successes. Ranked 72nd nationally, they allow on average 27.7 points a game, with a number that is even higher against its first three Big Ten opponents.Advantage: MichiganLocation, Location, Location!It cannot go unmentioned that Nebraska is undefeated in its four home games this season. Michigan is 1-2 on the road, but the crowd at Memorial Stadium will be amped up and ready to greet the Wolverines for the first time as Big Ten competition. Last season Nebraska was trampled in Ann Arbor 45-17 and will be looking for revenge, like what happened to Wisconsin in Week 5.Advantage: NebraskaSo who is going to come out the likely favorite to be playing Dec. 1 against the winner of the Leaders Division? It will be close, but I predict Michigan will come out on top. The way Michigan’s defense has played tips the game in their favor for me. Martinez and his offense are good, but we have seen them stopped before this year, and I think we will again come Saturday.last_img read more