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Toussaint's emergence changes offense

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he decided to play conservatively on offense against Illinois once he saw how well the Michigan defense was playing.

Rather than using the Wolverines' "2" package with junior quarterback Denard Robinson and sophomore quarterback Devin Gardner, he stuck with a more traditional lineup using running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Hoke said the emergence of the redshirt sophomore, and the running load that he has taken off Robinson, has helped to keep the junior quarterback healthier this year.

"It's different every week how people want to defend us because of Denard," Hoke said. "So he's part of the formula for Fitz['s yards], even though he didn't throw one block in the game."

Gardner came in after Robinson left the game with a minor wrist sprain. Even then Toussaint, who ran for a career-best 192 yards and one touchdown, was still able to be productive and attack Illinois' defense. According to Hoke, Robinson could've gone back in, but he was pleased with how Gardner was managing the game so he decided to leave the sophomore in the game.

Robinson's interception and two fumbles seemed not to be too much of a worry for Hoke, who attributed those to both Robinson and the Illinois defense.

"There was a lot of pulling and scratching and all that kind of stuff," Hoke said. "You're trying to get some extra yards, you're trying to make a play, and you lapse a little bit in your ball security."

Welcome to the Big Ten

The Wolverines get their chance at the newest Big Ten member when Nebraska visits Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

"Nebraska has always been a very physical football team," Hoke said. "They take great pride in their football."

Both teams play similarly as well. Michigan is averaging 231 rushing yards per game this season. Nebraska is averaging 233. Michigan is averaging 190 passing yards per game this year. Nebraska is averaging 171.

Senior center David Molk said he hadn't thought about playing Nebraska until this week, but now his focus in on learning their scheme since it's the most unfamiliar to him.

"They're a tough team. They're a good team. They're a solid team. They're very much like us," Molk said. "I don't know much about them, but I'm looking forward to something new."

Special teams roller coaster

Before Saturday's game against Illinois, Hoke walked onto the field and watched as redshirt sophomore kicker Brendan Gibbons made a 48-yard field goal into the wind.

"I was a little surprised, but he hit it right," Hoke said. "I feel probably a little better about his range."

Gibbons was 1-of-2 on field goal attempts Saturday, connecting from 27 yards and missing from 38. But Hoke said if the Wolverines got into a position to attempt a 50-yard field goal, he would have to make an instinctual decision at that time, but it's definitely an option for Michigan.

He's also pleased with freshman kicker Matt Wile who continues to show improvement. On the season, Wile has averaged 63 yards per kick, which is an improvement from last year's kickoff squad that averaged less than 60 yards per kickoff.

Hoke said that he has seen progress from sophomore punter Will Hagerup at times, and that he may have been trying too hard this weekend when he punted four times for an average of just 34 yards.

Military Appreciation Day

The game against Nebraska will be Military Appreciation Day.

Michigan is attempting its first ever "card stunt," which will require fans in sections 1 through 23 to hold up poster boards during the national anthem. The boards will form an image of a waving American flag.

There will be four F-16s conducting a flyover, with the lead flier being a Michigan graduate. During each timeout a different service of the military will be honored, and service flags will be placed throughout the stadium.

"We're all thankful for those who've served this country," Hoke said. "Coming from San Diego and having relations that we were able to have with the Marine Corps and the Navy, it's humbling what they do for our country and for us."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.