ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Meltdown at Michigan. Bust at the Big House. And lights out on a Big Ten title and a Bowl Championship Series bid.
Nebraska’s football team committed gaffes galore in its 45-17 loss to Michigan on Saturday.
“If you could write a script on how to lose a football game, that would be the perfect example,” senior safety Austin Cassidy said.
Four personal fouls. Three fumbles. Three sacks. A 23 percent third-down conversion rate. Two dropped coverages that led to touchdowns. One dropped snap that led to another. And two “Beat Ohio!” chants from the 113,718 fans at Michigan Stadium who were already looking past Nebraska toward next weekend’s game with Ohio State.
Do not expect this episode to run in syndication back home.
“It’s embarrassing. It is what it is,” defensive backs coach Corey Raymond said.
“A comedy of errors,” defensive line coach John Papuchis called it.
“You can’t play like that on the road and win a football game,” coach Bo Pelini said.
Michigan ran 80 plays; Nebraska just 54. The Wolverines possessed the ball for more than 41 minutes; the Huskers had it for just 18:47. UM outgained NU 418-260. In a duel of dual-threat quarterbacks, Michigan’s Denard Robinson accounted for 263 yards and four touchdowns, while Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez accounted for 171 and two scores.
And special teams — a phase NU usually wins, or plays to a stalemate — was a train wreck.
Two fumbles on kick returns — by Kenny Bell and Tim Marlowe — contributed to the landslide, as did punter Brett Maher’s bobbled snap, which led to a block. Long snapper P.J. Mangieri picked up a personal foul. Michigan successfully executed a fake field goal on fourth down.
And just when NU had a glimmer of hope to start the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 31-17 and getting a three-and-out on Robinson, walk-on Wil Richards was flagged for roughing Wolverine punter Will Hagerup.
“That was the wrong call,” Pelini said in his postgame press conference. He declined to elaborate. Asked afterward for an interview, Richards said he had to get on the team bus.
Michigan was punting from its own 17-yard line when Richards — on a designed block play — knifed through UM’s protection, laid out across Hagerup’s foot and just missed the ball. Richards appeared to brush Hagerup’s plant foot. Hagerup dramatically fell to the turf.
Officials flagged Richards for the 15-yard penalty instead of the five-yarder. Several NU players doubled over in disbelief.
“But if you get kicked in the gut, you’d better respond — kick them right back in the gut,” linebackers coach Ross Els said. “And we did not.”
Yes, Michigan (9-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten) got the ball back and scored a back-breaking TD seven plays later when Robinson lofted a 38-yard pass to Martavious Odoms, who kept running under the ball while Huskers Andrew Green and Daimion Stafford seemed to stop near the goal line.
“I can’t get in a kid’s head,” Raymond said.
The Wolverines’ first TD of the game was set up in much the same way, as Roy Roundtree caught a 46-yard jump ball over cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
“He throws a good deep ball,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said of Robinson. “And he buys time. He makes you cover for a long time.”
Two plays later, Robinson zipped a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon — also working on Dennard. The Wolverines padded their lead to 10-0 before Nebraska (8-3 and 4-3) made a brief run at competing in this game.
Operating out of the diamond formation, Martinez found receiver Brandon Kinnie behind the defense for a 54-yard touchdown. On UM’s next drive, Husker defensive tackle Terrence Moore tipped a Robinson pass and intercepted it. That led to a Maher field goal for a 10-10 tie.
Robinson — as good as he’s been all year and unshackled from his understudy, Devin Gardner — answered.
First, he converted a third-and-6 with an 8-yard pass. On a later third-and-6, he audibled to a short-side quarterback sweep and weaved his way through traffic for a first down. He scrambled for 9 more yards, covering the full width of the field to do so. One play later, he found a hole in the defense and darted for a 14-yard touchdown and a 17-10 lead.
Martinez could provide no such answer as ghosts of 2010 wafted through the Big House.
Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison switched up coverage schemes. He tried to disguise blitzes, frequently crowding his linebackers around the line of scrimmage, then bailing them hard back into coverage. This seemed to frustrate the sophomore into indecision and poor throws. Martinez double-clutched. He stalled on scrambling. He threw behind several receivers. He rifled a short pass at Bell’s facemask.
Holes for him and Rex Burkhead were few. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck — who did not talk to the media after the game — resorted to complex, double-option plays (Martinez-to-Burkhead-to-Ameer Abdullah) when the regular option was stopped for big losses in the first half.
“I thought we played awful on offense,” Bo Pelini said. “We didn’t execute. We took ourselves out of drives.”
Carl Pelini calls them Murphy’s Law games.
“Where everything that can go wrong, goes wrong for you,” the NU defensive coordinator said.
“How many times is Brett Maher going to drop the snap? How many times is that roughing-the-punter going to be called in a season? The two kickoff returns.
“It’s just like the wheels came off. And once that happens, boy, you start reeling.”
|Yards per carry||3.9||4.5|
Nebraska is 4-5 all-time against Michigan.
|Fresno State||Sept. 10|
|Ohio State||Oct. 8|
|Michigan State||Oct. 29|
|Penn State||Nov. 12|
|South Carolina||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 16 games on Nov. 19. See them all »
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