Michigan Football By the Numbers: Nebraska

That was a VERY satisfying way to take a 5-4-1 series lead over the Cornhuskers.  Onward to Evanston!

TABLE: FIVE FACTORS

OFFENSE

Raise your hand if you had Week 4 circled as the first “take ’em to the wood shed” performance from Michigan’s offensive line. Nobody?  Me either.  In my opinion, the raw statistics tell more of the story than the S&P Five Factors do, because I did not remove garbage time for my analysis.  And by garbage time, I mean the entire second half.  Michigan was able to take Shea Patterson out in the 3rd quarter after another solid performance, and again Dylan McCaffrey was strong in his mop up role.  For me, the most encouraging sign for the offense was the return of the explosive run play.  The offensive line not only achieved great initial push along the front, the big run plays imply that blocks are being maintained at the second level, including by the wide receivers.

DEFENSE

Nebraska managed to salvage a small edge in Finishing Drives because they cashed in on both of their scoring opportunities, while Michigan went 6-of-7 thanks to an interception thrown by the third string QB.  However, Nebraska did not cross Michigan’s 40-yard line until their sad, “no shutout” field goal in the 3rd quarter.  Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich did not play any longer into the 3rd quarter than Shea Patterson did.  Devin Bush is clearly a step (or two) faster than Nebraska’s best offensive weapons.  Again, the lopsided raw statistics are more indicative of the butt kickin’ in this game. Nebraska increased their Yards per Play above 3.0 by finding some room to breathe against the 2nd and 3rd string Wolverines.  It was the first truly dominant performance in 2018 from Don Brown’s guys. Let’s hope there is more where that came from!

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 4

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 21.2, 6th (up 4)
Offense: 37.7, 24th (up 14)
Defense: 12.9, 4th (up 3)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

vs. Nebraska: UM 56 NEB 10
Pregame S&P+: UM by 8.6, 4-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 11, 3-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 3.6

vs. SMU: UM 45 SMU 20
Pregame S&P+: UM by 20.0, 3-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 39, 2-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 2.6

vs. Western Michigan: UM 49 WMU 3
Pregame S&P+: UM by 10.8, 2-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 25, 1-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 1.6

@ Notre Dame: ND 24 UM 17
Preseason S&P+: ND by 0.1, 1-0
Preseason Clint: UM by 4, 0-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 0.6

NEXT UP

@ Northwestern: Overall 3.1, 60th
M Offense 37.7 (24th) vs. O Defense 20.6 (24th), Midpoint: 29.15
M Defense 12.9 (4th) vs. O Offense 24.0 (96th), Midpoint: 18.45

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
S&P+ gives a 10.7 point edge to Michigan. The Wildcats have not been impressive at all, but this Michigan team still needs to show it can be sharp on the road.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: The match-up to watch is Michigan’s offense versus Northwestern’s defense, as both are ranked #24 in the S&P+. Harbaugh will look to maintain balance between pass & run, while wearing down the Wildcats into the 3rd and 4th quarters.
Michigan 31 Northwestern 14 (PRESEASON: Michigan 17 Northwestern 14)

TL;DR SUMMARY

One team out-hit the other by a significant margin. The scoreboard reflects which is which. To his credit, Scott Frost did not try to spin any fictional moral victories during his 2018 post-game press conference.

 

MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2018: WOLVERINES THRASH HUSKERS 56-10

Saturday last, the University of Nebraska Football Team came to Michigan Stadium expecting to instruct the Wolverines on how to win a Big Ten Football game. The Wolverines proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had already learned the lesson, besting the Cornhuskers 56 to 10 to open the Big Ten Season.

The Wolverines were ranked 19th in the country and a 19-point favorite.

NEBRASKA IS A WORK IN PROGRESS under new coach Scott Frost.  Frost was well schooled in the art and science of football under famous Husker Head Coach Tom Osborn. Frost campaigned for a share of the National Title Michigan had seemed to secure via a Rose Bowl victory over Washington State in 1997. 

Nebraska Coach Osborne was a very good and famous football coach who was retiring.  The campaign was successful, and the Corn Huskers received a one of the four 1997 National Championship awards, the Wolverines the other three. The Coach’s poll awarded its honor to the Corn Huskers.

Coach Frost couldn’t watch the second half

Frost’s penchant for hyperbole did not make him a favorite among many Michigan fans of the time, and in some sectors more than a hint of this lingers.  Many Michigan fans of the time felt they had the superior team, that the Huskers had played a lesser schedule, and had at least one lucky win. M fans  wanted to see a head to battle between the Wolverines and Huskers, winner take all.  Of course, that never happened.

Frost came to Michigan Stadium a few year ago as the head man of the UCF football program, and left with a 51-14 beating.  After that, his exaggeration was that UCF outhit the Wolverines. Not so.  Coach Harbaugh was asked post game if this was motivation for the Wolverines.   His diplomatic answer was that he did not remember it.

Before the game it was said Nebraska was the best three loss team in America.  Now there is little to say they are the best four loss team in America as Nebraska suffered one of the worst defeats in their football history.

While few if any Wolverines are going to feel sorry for them, in time, they will get off the mat, and provide competition in the future, as Frost is a good coach.

Nebraska QB Adrian Martinize had recovered from a prior injury enough to play. There were questions whether or not he would play in this game, and it was no surprise that he did. As it turned out, it was not one of his better days or for any other Husker QB.

 

GREAT DAY FOR THE M OFFENSE: Shea Patterson was money in the bank again.  He was 15 of 22 for 106-yards and a TD. Dylan McCaffrey got in late in the third quarter, and proved worthy again.   He is now solidly ensconced as the Number Two QB, and his future is looking up.  He had a long, apparent TD run, called back because of a holding call.  I did not know he was that fast.

Dylan was 3 of 8 for 86-yards.  The threw a 56-yard TD catch and carry to Freshman Ronnie Bell.

Brandon Peters got in late in the game and did well.  The M QB room is well stocked.

The offensive line played its best game of the year, giving Karan Higdon a great first half. He toted 12 times for 136-yards and a TD, and absolutely jump started the 1st Quarter offense.  I was in the scrum that heard him after the game, and it appears his athleticism comes from being well muscled.  He can give and take a whack. Even though he has recently been dinged, he looks very durable which is an asset in a running back.

Sophomore Ben Mason, also look durable.  Sometimes used as an H back Saturday, Mason had 6 carries for 3 TDs.  He has a unique appearance, and wears what used to be called a Mohawk haircut. Hair shaved on the sides with a longer strip down the middle.  He looks enough like a tough guy to be realistically cast as one in a Hollywood film. He is by reputation the toughest player on the Wolverine team, and he is a fast-developing offensive asset.

Frosh RBs Tru Wilson, O’Mara Samuels and Christian Turner had a total of 121-yards.  Wilson looked good again.

The Wolverines rushed for 285 net-yards for a 6.3 average. They had 206-yards passing.  This shows good balance. Both Bell and Gentry caught receiving TDs.

M’s DEMOLITION DEFENSE HAD A GREAT DAY, TOO:  Rashan Gary had an outstanding performance early when it really counted.  He had 2 solo tackles, 2 TFLs and 1 sack. Brad Hawkins did well also with 2, 2, and 1.   Chase Winovich matched Hawkins. Winovich had another outstanding game. Devin Bush led with 6, 2, and 1.

Missing in action in the first half was Kaleke Hudson because of last weeks targeting call.  It will be the same for him and his team this coming Saturday against Northwestern. After he got in the game in the second half, he had another targeting call.  It seems he still has to learn that the new rules, rule.

Over all the defense was outstanding.  Nebraska managed 39-yards rushing and 92 passing for a 1.7-yard average.  Josh Metellus got another interception on a ball tipped by Lawrence Marshall.

SPECIAL TEAMS OUTSTANDING:  Donovan Peoples-Jones led the parade with an absolutely mesmerizing punt return of 60-yards. Quinn Nordin hit two field goals, one of 50-yards, and one of 38-yards. On the other side of the ledger, he missed an extra point. Will Hart hit a long punt of 64-yards, and left 2 inside the 20 with one on the five-yard line. He had an average of 59.3-yards. Hart has become a weapon. Coverage was good-well, mostly.

HOW THEY SCORED: Full back Ben Mason broke the plane of the goal line with 10.27 left in the 1st quarter, after the offense produced a 6-play, 64-yard drive.  A short pass to Karan Higdon, and a Higdon zip of 46-yards did most of the damage. M-7, N-0.

On their next possession, the Wolverines struck on one play for a 44-yard TD as Karan Higdon broke into the end zone, and it was M-14, N-0.

The last M score of the period came on an 8-play, 66-yard scoring drive started by a 15-yard TE Sean McKeon catch, and featuring a completion to TE Zach Gentry, a Tru Wilson rush for 26-yards, and a Ben Mason smash of 4-yards for the TD.

This was a great quarter for both offense and defense. It was what fans had been hoping for, and it was further enhanced by the Ambry Thomas recovery of a fumble to end the quarter. Will Hart had booted a 57-yard punt to the N 35. The speedy Ambry Thomas grabbed a ball knocked into the air by M’s Jacob McCurry, and streaked into the end zone, but by odd rule it could not be advanced.  The end of the quarter ended the possession with no added score, M-21, N-0.  Still, it was a pleasure to watch Thomas make an outstanding play.

In the 2nd quarter, an M 4-play, four drive garnered a FG of 50-yards by Quinn Nordin. M-23, N-0.

The next Wolverine drive featured a 10-yard completion to People-Jones.  The ball was worked down to the N 5, and Zach Gentry nabbed the ensuing five-yard TD pass.  M-30, N-0.

Next Peoples-Jones gathered in a punt, and returned it 17-yards to the Nebraska 34.  Karan Higdon got it to the N 9 on a 25- yard scurry, and then he got it to the 1 on an 8-yard effort. Ben Mason plowed it in to complete the 3-play, 34-yard drive. M-37, N-0.

The Wolverines then got a safety on a catch by a Husker player while he was trapped in the end zone.  He then quickly pushed the ball out of the end zone to avoid the safety.  The play was reviewed, and called two forward passes on the same play. The safety stood. M-39, N-0.

Michigan had played a great half of football.

At 9:01 of the third quarter, Donovan People-Jones electrified the crowd with his outstanding punt return of 60-yards.  DPJ gathered it in on his 40-yard line and headed for the eastern sideline.  Did he have the speed to turn the corner and streak down the sideline toward the North end zone? No worry.  He cut toward the center, used a spin move to confuse a tackle, avoided another, and dove for the north west pylon for a stunning TD. M-46, N-0.

Nebraska bested the Wolverines on their next possession, avoiding M’s continued propagation of the coveted golden goose egg on the scoreboard for the Huskers. Michigan penalties fueled an 8-play, 55-yard Nebraska scoring drive which to resulted in a 35-yard field goal.  M-46, N-3.

Dylan McCaffery was now at the Wolverines’ throttle.  He conducted an 11-play, 55-yard scoring drive.  He ran for 17-yards during the drive. Stalled by a couple of incomplete passes, Quinn Nordin hit a 38-yard FG. M 49, N-3, and the third quarter scoring was complete.

The highlight of the fourth quarter for M fans was a 56-yard TD completion from McCaffrey to a very talented Freshman, Ronnie Bell.  The completion finished a  two-play drive. M 56, N-3.

Nebraska finished the scoring with a 7-play, 80-yard consolation drive to make a final of M-56, N-10.

TAKE AWAY:  The Wolverines opened up the offense and playbook a little, the offense achieved some parity in run versus pass, the defense and special teams played well, and a large group of youngsters got to play in the Big House. Also, the QB position group is brimming with talent and gaining experience in the system.

Still after three straight victories, it remains difficult to measure how good the Wolverines are at this point in the schedule.  Bigger challenges lay ahead. Plus a signature win.  The Wolverines have still to play themselves into the mix.

Next week an away game will test their mettle some.  Northwestern usually can score, and the Wolverines will have to limit penalties, but overall right now, this season is looking up. Bring on the Wildcats.

Go Blue!