Martinez, Burkhead lead potent Nebraska offense
November19, 2011: Nebraska
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By KEVIN RAFTERY
Daily Sports Editor
This past week, the No.20 Michi-
gan football team's defense hasbeen
presented with a very unusual chal-
lenge while preparing to compete
against No. 17 Nebraska.
ers (5-1 Big Ten, Nebraska at
8-2 overall) rank .,-a
second in the Big Mc a
Ten in total scor- Matchup:
ing - but it's the Nebraska 8-2;
way in which they Michigan 8-2
score that makes When: Satur-
them so unique. day 12 P.M.
"I think this Where: Michi-
one will pose a gan Stadium
real challenge TV/Radio:
to our defense ESPN
like three offens-
es in one," said Michigan defensive
coordinator Greg Mattison.
Nebraska features a dual-threat
quarterback in sophomore Taylor
Martinez, a power running back in
senior Rex Burkhead, and an offen-
sive playbook full ofnooks and cran-
nies the Wolverines have never seen
"They will run the power, they'll
run the lead play, they'll run the toss,
toss-(isolation), and then they'll get
into some of the option read stuff,"
said Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
Put those all together, and that
adds up to a stiff task for the Michi-
gan defense come Saturday.
"They're a power attack," Mat-
tison said. "(Burkhead) is a really
good downhill runner. They go from
that to being able to be an option
attack with (Martinez). It makes
the defense have to be sound in all
Possibly the most difficult task
for the Wolverines (4-2, 8-2) will be
stopping the option - Michigan's
ability to contain the outside has
been an area of concern, though
it has improved over the last sev-
eral games. Mattison noted that the
focus on gap integrity and contain-
ing the edge heading into Saturday
will be "huge."
"Whenever you have an option
team, responsibility and doing your
job is critical," he said. "You have to
be really disciplined playing a game
While the Wolverines have
improved in defending the outside,
the Cornhuskers have improved
running the option, too - Martinez
said they spend a set period of time
every day to solely practice the play.
Burkhead said Martinez has been
"tremendous" at running the option
and has continued to improve
throughout the season. Martinez
credited his improvement to experi-
"Every time we do an option, I
get better and better at it," Martinez
said. "Every game I'll keep getting
But Michigan can't get too caught
up in focusing on defending against
the option. Nebraska offensive coor-
dinator Tim Beck seems to always
have something new up his sleeve.
"He's like the witch doctor," said
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. "You
don't know what he's going to do."
On top of running several differ-
ent offensive schemes, Beck likes to
keep a very up-tempo offense, often
trying to catch the opposing defense
"That's a concern," Mattison said.
"Any time a team tempos you, you
have to find out how mature your
defense is. You have to be a very
disciplined defense, and you have to
be a tough-minded defense to know
that you're going to get the call at the
spur of the moment."
But the Wolverines have the
personnel to successfully com-
bat Nebraska's up-tempo offense.
Seniors Ryan Van Bergen and Mike
Martin mentioned this week that
they've become comfortable calling
Senior Rex Burkhead is the main cog as the running back in Nebraska's offense.
audibles at the line when they deem
fit, and Mattison has full confidence
in them to do so.
"You can't load up and play the
power because you may be getting
optioned," Mattison said. "You can't
go in there with an idea of being
a finesse or assignment totally or
you're going to get the power run
right at you."
It's a test that Martin and Van
Bergen say they're ready for - the
two senior leaders have already
had success in calling plays at the
line this year. Against Illinois last
week, Van Bergen called an audible
at the line that resulted in a sack for
the 288-pound defensive end. The
Wolverines enter Saturday's con-
test ranked second in the Big Ten in
scoring defense, giving up an aver-
age of just 15.5 points per game, and
first in red zone defense, stopping
opponents from scoring two-thirds
of the time.
And recently, Van Bergen went so
far as to say that Michigan has the
best defensive line not only inthe Big
Ten, but also in the country. When
asked about Van Bergen's comment,
Hoke was straightforward.
"We have two games left to see
that, right?" he said.
"I know one thing - if you're
gonna talk the talk, you better walk
8 1 FootballSaturday - November 19, 2011