TEMPE, Ariz. — Fifth-ranked Michigan and seventh-ranked Nebraska meet for the first time since 1962 in Wednesday's 15th annual Sunkist Fiesta Bowl here and Cornhuskers Coach Tom Osborne is hoping for a low-scoring football game.
"It'll be to our advantage if it is," he said. "The odds of a 35-34 game are not good since Michigan's defense is awfully tough. We just don't want to get into another situation like what happened against Oklahoma."
The Cornhuskers (9-2) lost, 27-7, to the Sooners on Nov. 23 in the Big Eight Conference championship game at Norman, Okla.
"The worst possible scenario happened--we gave up two big plays early and it was 14-0. That makes you alter your plans," Osborne said. "We wanted to stay close and hopefully do some things to win us the ballgame in the fourth quarter. We never got ourselves in the position to do that."
Michigan, the Big Ten Conference runner-up with a 9-1-1 record, is coming off a 27-17 win over Ohio State in the regular-season finale Nov. 23 in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Wolverines have given up only five touchdowns this season, two of them on the ground.
"All of that is kind of forgotten now," said Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler. "It's a different problem facing Nebraska. We've been effective in stopping the great passers in the country. We have not met a rushing attack like this. It's hard to imagine trying to handle an offense that averages 375 yards rushing and 35 points a game. It's not right for somebody to do that."
Nebraska's ground game led the nation this season, paced by junior I-back Doug DeBose, who had 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns on 203 carries. Senior fullback Tom Rathman added 881 yards and eight TDs on 118 carries.
But Michigan ranked first nationally in scoring defense (6.8 points per game), second in total defense (253.6 yards per game) and sixth in rushing defense (103.2 yards per game).
"They're very, very stingy," Osborne said. "Michigan plays awfully well together as a unit and as you get closer to their goal line, they get better and tougher. They recover real well and everybody's around the ball. They don't give up the big plays."
Osborne said he also is worried about the Wolverine offense and senior quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who completed 139 of 212 passes for 1,913 yards and 18 touchdowns with six interceptions.
"He's their catalyst and he's been a phenominal player for them this year," said Osborne. "He runs well, throws well and doesn't make mistakes. He's one of the most complete quarterbacks in the country today and the best we'll see this year."
Sophomore quarterback McCathorn Clayton led the Cornhuskers to nine straight victories after taking over for injured starter Travis Turner. Clayton was just 2-of-9 for 37 yards with two interceptions in the loss to Oklahoma, however.
"They lull you into supporting the run so much that they throw effectively with play-action fakes," Schembechler said. "They've run by everybody they've played. If they do complete a pass, it's usually a big play."
"We'd like to run most of the time and throw as a surprise element," Osborne said. "But I don't know if Michigan will allow us to. We'll just have to see how it goes. It should be a fine ballgame."
Michigan owns a 2-1-1 edge in the all-time series.