Well, that wasn’t pretty.
Nebraska laid another egg on the road, losing to Michigan in Ann Arbor 45-17. Special teams miscues led the way for Nebraska’s problems, with NU unraveling in the fourth quarter, attempting a miracle comeback.
So, let’s take a look at the smoking wreckage of NU’s game against Michigan and see what we can learn.
Two fumbled kickoff returns. A blocked punt. Failing to defend a fake field goal. A critical roughing the kicker penalty (more on that later). In an area where Nebraska generally at least holds its own, special teams opened the door wide for Michigan to pull away and embarrass NU.
At its best, Nebraska was going to struggle with Michigan, and giving the Wolverines possessions and field position made all the difference in giving Michigan the win.
Michigan ended the game 8-17 on third down (with that number looking worse for Michigan after the game was decided), while Nebraska was 3-13. Nebraska didn’t convert a third down until late in the third quarter.
Given how the game went on the field, the final score was a fair reflection of the game. However…
Sometimes teams win games in which they are outplayed. And Nebraska certainly had its opportunity to steal a win against Michigan.
At halftime, NU was only down seven points even though it didn’t have 12 minutes of possession. And still, late in the third quarter Nebraska was only down two scores, had made a critical stop, and had showed signs of life on offense.
But a roughing the kicker penalty gave Michigan a first down, Michigan drove the field and scored, and the game was functionally over.
Let me make this very clear: Michigan was the better team, and deserved to beat a sloppy Nebraska team.
But having said that, the roughing the kicker penalty was a dive that would make any soccer player proud. Michigan’s defense also had some (ahem) creatively-timed injuries that cropped up when Nebraska was getting into a rhythm in its no-huddle offense.
Again, Michigan outplayed and outcoached Nebraska, and likely would have beaten NU even without flopping on the FieldTurf like a carp in a fishing boat.
But at least now we know what to expect from Big Blue.
The best Nebraska can do now is end the regular season at 9-3, one loss worse than last year. Nebraska played itself out of a conference title game with two embarrassing road losses and a still-mystifying defeat at home to Northwestern.
There’s no way to say that Nebraska’s inaugural season in the B1G hasn’t been a disappointment, based on the expectations the team and the fans had coming into the season yet.
But the season isn’t a failure. Not yet. A win over Iowa in the Corn Bowl (I refuse to use the absurdly self-important moniker given to the game) would still put Nebraska at 9-3, where many commentators (including one pretty smart and good-looking guy) thought it would finish. It would also likely mean a New Year’s Day bowl, and kicking off a series against a supposed rival off well.
But a loss to Iowa? At home? With a trophy on the line? And dropping to 8-4 and getting a serious bowl downgrade? Now that would be a failure of a season.
So I don’t want to hear anything about a letdown after Nebraska’s drubbing at the hands of the Wolverines. NU has tons to play for on Black Friday. We’ll see if they’ve got the character to stand up and win it.
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