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Posted on Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

Michigan football team's Greg Mattison, Brady Hoke break down Nebraska's option, how to stop it

By Kyle Meinke


Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and the Cornhuskers average 404.1 yards of offense per game.

Associated Press

The Nebraska offense has gone the way of the Michigan football team's offense: It went multiple last week against Penn State, with tailback Rex Burkhead getting direct snaps and running quarterback Taylor Martinez passing more.

But, the option remains the Cornhuskers' biggest punch, and the Wolverines' youthful defense will be challenged by the look when the teams square off at noon Saturday on ESPN.

The last time Michigan faced an option team was against Northwestern, and it did not fare well for a half. The Wildcats jumped to 24 first-half points as the Wolverines failed to slow the outside running game.

But they made adjustments at halftime, mainly going to a bigger nickel subpackage that featured outside linebacker Jake Ryan, and they shut out Northwestern in the second half en route to a comeback win.

They also saw a few options last week against Illinois, but the Illini did not feature the look like Nebraska will. The Cornhuskers' option also is more effective and diversified than Northwestern's version.

Martinez and Burkhead rank among the Big Ten's top-seven rushers, and the Cornhuskers' offense is second overall on the ground. Martinez ran the option as well as he has all year last week against the Nittany Lions, who entered the game with the Big Ten's No. 3 defense against the run.

The sophomore quarterback finished with 19 carries for 56 yards, but set up Burkhead for 25 more carries and 121 yards. Burkhead also scored a touchdown off the option.

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said the key to stopping Nebraska's option is for his players to be disciplined in their assignments.

"Whenever you have an option team, responsibility and doing your job is critical," Mattison said. "You saw it last week (against Illinois). We had a couple of times where we didn’t take the quarterback. Well, those two kids that that happened with took it probably 70 times in practice.

"Then, all of sudden, there’s that moment in the game where that back looks real intriguing and they want you to bite on that cheese, and they did, and the quarterback kept it. So you have to be really disciplined playing a game like this.”

Mattison said the team does a "chasing the rabbit" drill with the defensive lineman after every Tuesday practice, which emphasizes playing assignment football. They also have a pretty good quarterback against whom to drill in Denard Robinson.

The junior is about as fast as Martinez, maybe faster.

"We’ve got to be highly disciplined whenever (we’re) playing option football teams," coach Brady Hoke said. "You’ve got to do your job. That’s an expectation. That’s an important part of it.”

Hoke said part of what makes Nebraska so difficult to stop is it runs several variations of the option.

"There’s varying degrees," he said. "There’s some speed option you’ll see. There’s some zone-read option — parts of it that you’ll find out, but it’s a discipline of what your job is."

It will pose a challenge to Michigan's revamped defense, which is fifth best in the Big Ten this year against the run, but No. 1 in conference games.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.


Lorain Steelmen

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 7:41 p.m.

Great comments on this thread so far, and, as Stephen Johnson just posted, these teams, ARE very closely matched! At the end of the day, it always seems to come down to turnovers, and maintaining field position, through special teams. If DRob can just 'maintain his composure', stay within the framework of the offense, then I think Big Al may show a few new wrinkles. DRob's elusive, so he'll put pressure on the Nebraska D....but what they may NOT expect, is for some of the 'other playmakers', to make a big impact.....and UM has plenty of speed at the other postions. The key in my mind, is for DRob to 'distribute the ball', much like a point guard, and with some mis-direction, have the Blackshirts, running around like a bunch of marbles in a box. I think they'll over commit to stopping DRob. And if they do, their DB's may not be ready for prime time. We all know, that the defense must show up, and of course, the O-line, as well. But wouldn't it be fabulous, if this Borges offense, makes a statement, saturday as well?! It'll help if UM gets off to a fast start, and stays out in front of UN. I'd love to see the Wolves open up a gap, and alllow the Defense, to tee-off on the Huskers!! It's been way, way, too long, since a UM team 'rose up', and crushed a 'big time' opponent! I'd LOVE to see Moeller, Hanlon, and, yes, Carr, down there on the bench, stokin' the Blue up! Good Luck Blue! I think the Big House will be rockin' saturday. Just DO IT!

Stephen Johnson

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:54 p.m.

In looking at the stats for both teams, I have never seen two teams so closely matched in every category. Home field advantage does play into that evaluation. Most of it depends upon which team shows up to play. Nebraska's defense has been both good and bad. They are getting better toward the end of the year, Northwestern not withstanding. The offense also has gotten better but still cannot predictably get 3rd and 1. Michigan looks to have a rejuvenated defense as expected and will provide a big challenge for this young Nebraska offense. They one predication i make is that the game will be challenging and a struggle. A really great spectacle.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 4:51 a.m.

Wondering if Borges will try letting Denard loose for a quarter just to see what happens. Also see the possibility that he'd bring in Devin for a quarter - just to change the look and give support to the passing attack. Michigan's defense has demonstrated ability and confidence, so at least I would expect them to stay in the game. I think it may all boil down to how the offense plays. A win over Nebraska would bring many benefits. But a loss would bring every bit as much harm. Noticed: Nebraska fans say their program reached national prominence starting with their 1962 win against one of Bump Elliot's worst Michigan teams. At the time, it was a big upset but the reality is they beat Michigan during its still-remembered Dark Decade b4 Bo arrived. But since then, Nebraska has racked up more total wins than Michigan. So it's time to show Nebraska this isn't 1962 and their two wins against Michigan are now just history.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:43 a.m.

Hopefully Hoke is also working with big Al to get the offense on track. I would like to see some big gains on that side of the ball like we have seen on defense. This would have been an easier than most year to win the big ten but our offense has been worse than last year where as the defense substantially better. GO BLUE!!!!!


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 1:07 a.m.

Obviously the key is to shut down Nebraska's running game and make Martinez beat U of M with his arm, or shot-put, or whatever the heck you call his throwing motion. Martinez' weakness is the same as Denard's: if you beat him up a bit, he gets hurt and then hurries and makes mistakes.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

In stopping the option obviously the assignments are huge! The one thing that is not added in here that Hoke or Mattison probably could have said but dont want to give Nebraska any fuel is that every single time they run the option your match up with T Bop has to bury him into the ground as hard as he can! Over and Over again until he starts to pitch before he is suppose to. The matchup will probably be the end and the OLB will be on Buckhead all day. This game is all about outside contain. If they keep the RB or QB from getting around the edge the will dominate this game. If they continuously get outside it will be a long day! I dont think Buckhead will have any success going up the middle against Martin and VanBergen the way they are playing right now! From what I have read and seen, Nebraska's defense is very slow and has a lot of trouble stopping quick offenses like Northwestern! In particular shifty qbs because they can not recover fast enough when they make mistakes. That and with Crick out of the game I think Fitz has a big game again. Nebraska has given up a ton of points to fast teams and I dont expect that to change this weekend! I have seen predictions going from michigan winning by 3 to Nebraska winning by 3 all the way to Michigan destroying Nebraska so who really knows what will happen! Go Blue!!!


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 9:57 p.m.

".. every single time they run the option your match up with T Bop has to bury him into the ground as hard as he can" Which is the same strategy Nebraska has against Robinson, don't you think? "I dont think Buckhead will have any success going up the middle against Martin and VanBergen the way they are playing right now!" I hope you're right. If Martin/Van Bergen form a wall inside, then Mattison can focus on outside contain like you say. Play at the line of scrimmage is the key to this. As unglamorous as the big uglies are, it's where games are won and lost.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 9:02 p.m.

Nebraska's offense this is a much better than Illinois'. So is the defense. The one thing Michigan has going for it- aside from the defense is that Borges new offense has kept Denard healthier. If Borges opens up and let's Denard do run option like the Nebraska QB than we'll win this game. The same thing next week against Ohio. Pull out the stops. Michigan 10 and 2!


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 11:56 a.m.

I agree Nebraska's offense is better than the Illini. I disagree about the defenses however. Illinois was #1 against the run in the B1G when we faced them; Nebraska's D has been inconsistent this year. They played well against PSU. It's possible they will falter this week in AA. I agree with you and DonAZ about opening up the playbook offensively. A few new wrinkles, more pressure on Nebrask'a D with Denard running, enough passes to keep them off balance. Should be a hard fought, competitive game. The best part of this entire season is the fact that Michigan has been competitive in every single game! That was all I hoped for before the season began. Keep it rolling guys! Go undefeated at home this year!! Go Blue!


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 9:53 p.m.

I suspect we'll see a few more wrinkles from Borges. You may well get your wish.

Lorain Steelmen

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 9:01 p.m.

Sounds like Hoke has these kids practicing plenty of reps. I like that, because in the heat of battle, and all the noise of the big house, there is a tendency to get carried away. Composure , yet playing with intencity, is a very tough balancing act, particularly if you are YOUNG. And we have plenty of YOUNG kids getting lots of PT. Hoke didn't say this, but I assume that he expects the first man, on the QB, must make the QB 'commit' as soon as he possibly can, to disrupt the play, and then make the QB 'pay, whichever option he chooses. Burket(?), is the 'ace' here, because he is a legit power runner. That means the D-line must stop everything between the tackles. The less I see our D on the field the happier I will be. If the offense is to play any kind of ball control, we'll need the O-line to consistently carve up the 'Black Shirts'. This one should be a dandy. I am hoping for a statement game by this 2011 team. This IS, what all the work since Hoke arrivesd was for.....Go Blue!

Larry Weisenthal

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 9:57 a.m.

>>The less I see our D on the field the happier I will be.<< That's one important reason why the Borges offense is actually an improvement over the offensive scheme of the prior year.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 9:50 p.m.

The more I read about this game, the more I think the tale of the tape is going to be who wins the line of scrimmage ... on both sides of the ball. If that's a toss-up, then it comes down to special teams and protecting the ball.