Coming into the season Nebraska was one of the early favorites to win the B1G Ten Legends division. Coming into this weekend’s game Nebraska was still in the running for the top spot in the Legends division and a chance to play in the first ever B1G Ten Championship game. Michigan was having none of it as the Wolverines thumped the Cornhuskers 45-17 en route to their ninth win of the season.
Michigan was in control pretty much from its second series on, although Nebraska made it interesting for a few minutes in the second quarter. But the Wolverine offense and defense played what I thought was their best game overall this year.
Michigan couldn’t get anything going on its first series, going 3-and-out, but Nebraska did the exact same on its first series. On the first play of Michigan’s next drive we saw something we got accustomed to last season, but haven’t seen all that much of this year: a Denard keeper for a big gain. After that, a screen pass and a short run, both by Toussaint gave Michigan another first down. After a short keeper and an incomplete pass, Michigan was faced with 3rd-and-9, but Denard hit Roy Roundtree for a gain of 46 yards. A personal foul penalty moved Michigan inside the 3-yard line, and on 2nd-and-goal Denard faked it to Stephen Hopkins, rolled left, and hit Jeremy Gallon across the middle of the end zone for six points.
Nebraska looked like it was going to get rolling after a first down option keeper by Taylor Martinez went for 11 yards, however, Michigan had other thoughts. Mike Martin stuffed Rex Burkhead, and Kenny Demens had a pass break up on third down to get Michigan the ball back after a punt.
Michigan took over in great field position at its 45-yard line. A play-action found no one open so Denard took off and gained 15. Two straight carries by Toussaint gained 14 yards and set up a Denard keeper for about seven. Denard was almost picked off on a pass attempt to Kelvin Grady and was then sacked for a loss of 13 on 3rd-and-8. Fortunately, Michigan was still within field goal range and Brendan Gibbons nailed through a 42-yarder to put Michigan on top 10-0.
But Nebraska wasn’t ready to lay down and die. On the third play of its next drive, Martinez hit a wide open receiver down the field, who broke a couple tackles then walked into the end zone from 54 yards out. 10-7 Michigan.
Michigan turned the ball over on its next possession as Denard’s pass on a second down was tipped and picked off. Nebraska looked like it was going to squander its opportunity as Jordan Kovacs stuffed Burkhead in the backfield for a loss of five. Faced with a 4th-and-14 Nebraska booted a 51-yarder in to tie the game at 10.
Michigan took over on its own 26 and ran Toussaint a couple times for a first down. A couple plays later, a third down pass to Hemingway kept the drive alive, and then a Denard keeper for eight kept the drive going once again on a third down. A play later, Toussaint broke free for 16 yards, and two plays after that, Denard visited the end zone on a QB keeper up the middle to put Michigan back ahead.
After two straight first down plays Michigan’s defense stepped up, first stuffing Martinez on a keeper for a loss of seven, then Jake Ryan tripped up Martinez as he tried to scramble. Michigan returned the favor and went three-and-out as Denard came up just shy of the marker on third down. Nebraska also went three-and-out and then Michigan ran the clock out to end the half.
Nebraska got the ball to start the second half – or so they thought. Return man Kenny Bell fumbled the ball and Courtney Avery was there to fall on it. Michigan made the most of the turnover, as its has done a lot this season, punching it in for six points a few plays later. The drive was aided by a pass interference that was a bit questionable, but who are we to argue with professional referees? Denard scored his second rushing touchdown of the game and Michigan took a 24-10 lead.
Michigan’s defense held again as Mike Martin stopped Martinez on a 3rd-and-short to force the punt. Punter Brett Maher bobbled the snap and Josh Furman took advantage of the situation, blocking the punt. The ‘Huskers recovered but couldn’t get it past the marker, giving Michigan possession at midfield.
Toussaint took the first two plays and went for 11 and 10 yards, respectively. After the 10-yarder he was hit out of bounds and the officials tacked on another 15 yards to set Michigan up inside the red zone. Denard was stuffed on 3rd-and-1 and Hoke sent the field gaol unit out. However, holder Drew Dileo took the snap and carried the ball down to the 1, setting up first and goal. Toussaint walked in for another Michigan touchdown to blow the game open at 31-10.
After Nebraska went 3-and-out, the punt pinned Michigan back at its own 4-yard line, where the Wolverines proceeded to go 3-and-out as well. Nebraska benefited from the field position game and took over at the Michigan 31. After a Martinez first down through the air, Nebraska ran the same play three straight times – a pitch right to Burkhead. On the third try the ‘Huskers picked up a first down. It was their first third down conversion of the day, with just over a minute and a half to go in the third quarter.
On 2nd-and-goal Martinez handed the ball to Burkhead on an option read but Burkhead pitched it to Ameer Abdullah who took it in for six. That made the score 31-17 Michigan, but there was plenty of time remaining for Nebraska to come back.
In what may have been the most critical play of the game, Michigan received a gift. After being stuffed on third down, Michigan lined up for the punt. Just as the ball left Will Hagerup’s foot, a ‘Husker defender came in and ever so slightly nipped his non-kicking foot as it was off the ground. The officials conferred and ruled it roughing the kicker, and first down Meeeeshigan!
The Wolverines made the most of the gift as Toussaint made some nifty moves on first down for a gain of 13, and then after a snap infraction by Molk, he broke a couple tackles for a gain of 8. On 3rd-and-short, Denard hit Martavious Odoms for the first down, then two plays later for a 38-yard touchdown on a deep pass. 38-17 Michigan.
Nebraska gifted Michigan another fumble on the kickoff return and J.B. Fitzgerald recovered on the ‘Husker 22-yard line. Michigan couldn’t get anything going and was forced into a 4th-and-long field goal attempt from 42 yards out, but Gibbons missed it wide right.
The defense held strong on its next series. Jake Ryan sacked Martinez on second down, and then forced a Martinez fumble on third down, which was recovered by Ryan Van Bergen.
Toussaint capped the scoring as he broke several tackles and broke free for 31-yard touchdown run on Michigan’s first play. 45-17 Michigan.
Nebraska is not a top five team, or maybe not even a top 10 team, but after a complete dominance by Michigan on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines proved they are for real. If there are still doubters about this Michigan team out there, and I know there are, then this performance should have them taking down their ‘fraud flags’ because these Wolverines are not just good, they’re really good. For the first time since 2006 I actually feel good heading in to Ohio week. Heck, I feel better than good, I’m expecting a Michigan win!