As was alluded to in the preview for this Legends division showdown, fate can be a fickle mistress, and fortunes can change quickly. After a slow 2-2 start, Michigan reeled off three consecutive wins, topping 40 points twice, and outlasting in state rival Michigan State in a defensive battle, 12-10. Saturday’s matchup had promised to be another defensive struggle, and for the most part, it delivered, albeit in a different fashion than most had expected, as Nebraska rolled to a 23-9 victory.
After erupting for 44 and 45 points against Purdue and Illinois, respectively, the scoreboard fireworks took a one week sabbatical for Michigan, as they managed but four field goals against Michigan State, but Nebraska seemed to be a ripe candidate for the reemergence of the Denard Robinson show. It was not to be. Robinson managed a rather pedestrian 6-11 passing for 55 yards and no touchdowns, and 10 rushes for 46 yards before being sidelined for the game in the second quarter with an elbow injury. Michigan’s defense had become its calling card, allowing more than 20 points just twice, to top ranked Alabama and the option attack of the Air Force Academy. Saturday’s effort was more in line with those two games as the Wolverines surrendered as many points to Nebraska, 23, as they had the previous three weeks combined. Michigan allowed just its third 100 yard rusher of the year, and the first since facing Air Force, as Ameer Abdullah, filling in for the injured Rex Burkhead, carried the ball 24 times for 101 yards and a touchdown.
As Michigan’s defense failed to deliver on its expectations, Nebraska’s defensive unit was more than up to the task. The Blackshirts held Michigan to just 188 yards of total offense, and kept the Wolverines out of the end zone, surrendering only three field goals. While Robinson’s injury certainly played a key part in that, Michigan’s offense was truly stymied on every front. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was limited to 38 yards on 15 carries, and backup signal caller Russell Bellomy was an anemic 3-16 for 38 yards, including three interceptions. The Nebraska defense was particularly stingy in the second half, allowing the Wolverines only 52 yards after intermission. Nebraska’s offense had been somewhat in question, as Taylor Martinez has battled inconsistency at quarterback, to go along with the fact that Rex Burkhead was unavailable due to injury. Despite concerns heading into the game, the Cornhuskers acquitted themselves well on offense. Martinez was a perfectly competent 14-24 for 166 yards passing, with one touchdown and one interception. He added another 58 yards rushing on 14 carries. Abdullah similarly rose to the challenge as he topped 100 yards for the fourth time this season. In sum, a complete effort from all phases of the game powered Nebraska to the victory, and has the partisans in Lincoln dreaming of Pasadena.
While their ticket to the conference championship game hasn’t been stamped quite yet, wins in the next two weeks over Michigan State and Penn State would definitely do the trick. As for Michigan’s Rose Bowl hopes, the Wolverines need some help, as well as a win in the season finale at rival Ohio State.
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