Top 10 Players: Michigan Vs. Nebraska

Every week, we take a look at the 10 best players to compete in the Michigan game.

QB Shea Patterson – The junior’s 171.2 pass efficiency rating is the best mark by a Michigan QB in non-conference play since … well, I couldn’t find any starting quarterback (with a three-game minimum) dating back to Elvis Grbac’s season in 1990.

LB Devin Bush – Michigan’s jack-of-all-trades is everywhere for the Wolverines, stopping running backs on fourth down, hitting QBs (seven total pressures and a team-high 1.5 sacks) while also breaking up a pass. He’s leading the Maize and Blue with 23 total stops, and has consistently graded out as U-M’s top defensive player (second in Week 1, first in Week 2 & 3).

WR Donovan Peoples-Jones – Only seven receivers in school history have caught four or more touchdown passes in the first three games of a new season – Lowell Perry in 1952, Anthony Carter in 1980, Desmond Howard in 1991, Braylon Edwards in 2004, Mario Manningham in 2006, Jeremy Gallon in 2013 and Amara Darboh in 2016.

Those seven would average 11 TDs per man with their great starts, with Howard (19), Edwards (15) and Carter (14) exceeding that average. With four in his first three games, can Peoples-Jones become the fifth?

DE Chase Winovich – The fifth-year senior remains the team leader in QB pressures with 12 in three games. Neither he nor his teammates are getting home consistently enough – Winovich has just one sack -- but he’s making his presence felt in every facet, with 20 non-sack tackles this year (second on the team).

WR Stanley Morgan Jr. – All-conference and receiver are generally not synonymous terms at Nebraska, but that’s what Morgan earned in 2017 after catching 61 balls for 986 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 6-1, 200-pound senior is off to a terrific start, with 10 receptions for 139 yards and a score in two games.

Considered one of the top-10 receivers in the 2019 NFL Draft, Morgan will be the best wideout Michigan’s secondary faces in the first seven weeks of the season.

DE Rashan Gary – Gary has been a topic of conversation this week, as 47% of voters to a Twitter poll I posted do not think he’s meeting expectations. That’s tough to say for a guy that is second on the team with seven QB pressures and is fourth on the team with 16 total stops. However, Gary’s meager 1.5 tackles for loss this year, including a single sack, are not the eye-popping numbers expected of a former No. 1 overall recruit (in the class of 2016).

QB Adrian Martinez – No one yet knows if he’ll play Saturday after missing last week’s game with a knee injury sustained in the Huskers’ opener against Colorado, but if he does go, Martinez is a game-changer. In his career debut, the freshman QB put up 304 yards of total offense and was responsible for three touchdowns – his 304 yards the fifth-best total in a Nebraska season-opener and the top mark ever by a Husker quarterback in his first game.

WR JD Spielman – Nebraska’s Steve Breaston type, Spielman does it all for the Cornhuskers, catching balls (64 for 942 yards in his two-year career), running the football (12 for 78 yards), and returning kickoffs (he holds the school record with a 99-yarder and has a 31-yarder this season). Ann Arbor was once considered a potential landing spot for the 5-9, 185-pounder but Michigan went in a different direction. Nebraska is thankful U-M did.

RB Karan Higdon – Without Higdon, Michigan’s running backs really struggled, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in the first 45 minutes of last Saturday’s win over SMU. They rebounded in the fourth quarter (a 10.1-yard average) but U-M badly needed Higdon in short-yardage situations, where the Wolverines picked up just five first downs on 11 tries (2 yards or less) and averaged a mere 1.5 yards per carry.

Higdon, by comparison this year, has picked up a first down on 5 of 8 short-yardage opportunities.

DE Freedom Akinmoladun – Nebraska’s best defensive lineman, Akinmoladun is off to the best start of his career, with 2.5 sacks in just two games. With Michigan’s suspect offensive tackles, the 6-4, 295-pounder could make life very uncomfortable for Patterson, and could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the game if he can disrupt the U-M passing attack like Daelin Hayes did for Notre Dame in week 1.