The Cornhuskers of the University of Nebraska swaggered into Michigan Stadium, with a player on record as wishing to shut Michigan up. The Huskers carried a 6-2, 3-1 record into the game with them, bettering the Wolverines then 6-2, 2-2 record. The Cornhuskers carried out a 4-1 Big Ten record, while the Wolverines slipped to 2-3.
While Michigan was reeling from a thrashing at the hands of the Green Meanies last Saturday, Nebraska was riding high from a last minute escape at Northwestern 29-24, The Wolverines were riding low having lost two of their last three Big Ten games. To add insult to injury, the Huskers made it three losses in four games for the Wolverines.
With a 2-3 Big Ten record, the Wolverines are effectively out of the race. Coach Hoke on the game: “Yeah, you know frustration because we lost as a team. I mean, I think that’s the frustration that we all have. I’ve got to do a better job coaching this football team. The guys were working, guys were fighting.”
This game provided the perfect opportunity for Michigan’s sagging spirits to rebound, to atone for their embarrassment at the hands of the Huskers last year after Denard’s game changing injury.
Further, back in 1997, the Wolverines had to share a national title with Nebraska because of a lucky catch in a game they should have lost (Missouri), plus the very timely retirement of their famed former Coach and then Athletic Director Tom Osborne. He successfully applied politics to gain the prize.
While it is denied by coaches and players that they ever go galloping down the revenge trail, this kind of stuff is certainly not lost on fans. And then there is the case of their sometimes not so lovable Coach Bo Pelini, was struggling to get off the hot seat before sizzle turned to burn. He had the temerity to lay into his own fans, home crowds. Can you imagine the furor in Ann Arbor if Hoke had even thought of such a public broadside?
But more notable was the defense the Huskers brought to Ann Arbor. They were 70th in the country in total D. Unfortunately while their defense was among or near the bottom feeders of the Big Ten, the Wolverines offense could manage only one TD against them Saturday, and the Nebraska defense was up to the task.
Devin Gardener was sacked seven times again this week, as M rushed for minus 21-yards. The backs again could not pass protect or run the football, the offensive play calling was often strange and inexplicable, as well as too often ineffective. The offensive line did some sieve imitations again. Late ineffective runs drew strong, very loud boos from the crowd, and their perplexity was understandable. As the conservative plays failed, M’s chances for victory melted. Nebraska out gained M’s 175 total yards by amassing 273.
All game long, Fitz ineffectively rushed on first down. His first half statistics are illustrative of the ineffectiveness of that work. He carried five times for five yards. When they finally threw him a pass, he gained 25-yards. For the game, M rushed for a minus 21-yards. The Wolverines had 36 rushes for a minus 0.6 yards. They gained 46 yards, but lost 67-yards rushing. The Wolverines had a dismal 3 of 15 conversions on third down. Nebraska was about twice that good. As usual the offense did not give the defense a comfort margin with which to work. The requirements of winning this game scoring wise were modest. One more TD would have won it. Two were needed, but we only got half there.
The always loyal Hoke defended the play calling, as one would expect he would: “I like the play calling. I think we thought we could do some things, and we didn’t.”, but to some fans it remains bizarre, and unexplained.
Devin Gardner would not give any quarter in the post- game press conference regarding alleged lack of toughness, simply and inelegantly saying that those critics could “shove it”. Devin has proved himself very mentally and physically tough, even though he seems a little shell shocked now, and holds the ball too long sometimes, which is another offensive flaw. He went 18 of 37 for 196-yards, and a TD. Devin Funchess was the most productive receiver, catching the team’s only TD, while collaring 6 passes for 66-yards. Devin’s running was largely a non-factor in this game.
Cameron Gordon led the defense with eight tackles, a forced fumble, and a sack. In the middle of the third quarter, Cameron separated the ball from its possessor and Chris Wormley recovered it. James Ross III was often noticeable, nailing eight tackles. The offense did not take advantage of this opportunity and left the points on the field as Matt Will missed a 52-yard FG.
Jake Ryan was active. While the defense played splendidly in the second and third quarters, they failed at games end, giving up the winning TD. Should we add conditioning to our list of worries?
It was perceived pregame that the Huskers transported a much more robust offense then defense to Ann Arbor. Their most experienced QB, the gifted Taylor Martinez was injured, and did not start. Freshman Tommy Armstrong got the nod for his 6th start. And he proved good enough to win, by staging a long drive for the winning TD, with Husker RB Abdullah scoring with a couple of minutes left in the game fir his second TD. Armstrong was 12 of 25 passing. He rushed12 times for 35-yards.
While the Nebraska offense, including the OL, had suffered significant injuries, they had what some considered the best running back in the Big Ten, Ameer Abdullah. He proved a thorn. He carried 27 times for 105 net yards and a TD. He was the one that stated he wanted to shut up Michigan. He commented that our crowd was nasty to him in his last venture into M Stadium. He brought an outstanding 7.1-yard average per carry into the game, but managed only a 3.9-yard average against the Wolverines. He had rushed for 1,108-yards this season. He is a five foot nine inch tall scat back. A key in this game was whether or not Michigan could stop him, and they did not well enough to win. He moved the chains and got the winning TD.
The usual Team 134 questions prevailed again, and then some. It seems we have learned how good team 134 is… and how good it isn’t.
While a Bloody Mary wouldn’t cure the kind of hangover caused by the Spartans, and now the Huskers, it would have taken a last minute Hail Mary to prevail over the Huskers. The Wolverines led 13-10 with a little more than eight minutes to play, but a 14-play, six minute, 75-yard Husker drive lasting over six minutes made it 13-17, and provided an insurmountable lead. M had a couple of minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter to stage an improbable come from behind win, but the Huskers were up to the task. On fourth and five, a Gardner pass slipped through the usually sure grasp of Drew Dileo, to end offensive opportunity, and the die was cast.
The scoring went like this:
The Huskers received to start the game, punted, M punted. On their second possession the Huskers hit a 21-yard FG. M-0, N-3. Then a 44-yard drive put the ball at the M six, and Abdullah ran it in for 6. M-0, N-10. The first quarter was owned by Nebraska. They managed 10 first downs to the Wolverines’ zilch.
The Wolverines finally put together a 66-yard drive, but stalled, and settled for a FG from 27-yards. M-3, N-10.
While the Cornhuskers throttled M for much of the first half, a 69-yard Matt Wile punt stopped at the Nebraska 3, eventually gave the Wolverines good field position at the Nebraska 42, as the defense had almost got a safety and did not give up a yard on the Nebraska possession after the punt. After M received the punt, they were held to a 4th and 4 as the last play in the possession. Devin Gardner was sacked as they went for the first down. After a 7-yard completion to Gallon, Devin lost a yard to the Nebraska 36, had an incomplete pass on third down, and then came the sack. A low point for the offense, as the Wolverines were dominated in the first half. The half ended M-3, N-10.
M received and made it 10-10 on a 75-yard 10-play drive, largely enabled by a 25-yard pass to Fitz Toussaint, and a 19-yarder to Jake Butt. Somehow a little innovation crept into the series. They only had to convert one third down opportunity in this drive. Devin Funchess caught the 7-yard TD.
Special teams again provided a lift as Nebraska mishandled a punt, which was scooped up by Dennis Norfleet. With 10 on the clock the ball was at the 25, but the offense bungled the opportunity for a most meaningful TD, being forced to settle for a Brandon Gibbons 45-yard FG. M-13, N-10.
Hopes of victory were dashed as the Huskers produced a long drive, shunned a field goal, and made a 26-yard gain to the Michigan 5. Three plays later they were at the 3, but an Armstrong option left to Abdullah sealed the Wolverines fate and produced the final score. M-13, N-17.
M’s final effort was described above.
An ESPN writer went far afield recently, when he categorized Michigan players as soft, and the team as being of poor character, while he lauded Michigan State as being tough and of good character. M is tough, coming from behind in a number of ballgames this year. This is not the most physically dominant team the Wolverines have ever fielded, but they will get there. They do not quit, have not quit.
Michigan is not “soft”, nor are the players full of themselves as the uninformed writer suggested. I believe I have a pretty good idea what that writer is full of, at least in that piece. But when a losing streak is established, teams, and coaches are subject to a fusillades of criticism, innuendo, and doubt.
There are two tough road games ahead and a tough home game. Possibly they will all be a struggle if recent history is indicative. We will see what the Wolverines can do. Hopefully. what they won’t do is give up. A New Years Day Bowl is still there for the taking.
It appears that Coach Hoke’s future as well as that of his team may be impeded by towing a barge full of heavy offensive woes. More than likely, the offensive line can’t be significantly improved until next year. Seems that if it could be done they would have done it by now. An in season cure now seems unlikely. We shall see.