Michigan 56, Nebraska 10

Michigan 56, Nebraska 10


September 23, 2018

This wasn’t deemed a penalty until much deliberation (image via Lincoln Journal Star)

That was unexpected. Nebraska isn’t very good this season, but I still thought Michigan would struggle. I predicted a 24-17 game in which the Wolverines would play down to the level of the Cornhuskers. I was wrong. Michigan’s defense played superb football, and the offensive line was overwhelmed the whole day. It also helped that Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez was not up to full speed after getting hurt against Colorado; he wore a knee brace and only seemed to be operating at 75% or so. Michigan’s offense was also clicking at a higher level than they have been, and that’s a credit to them. Nebraska’s defense shouldn’t have been as out of sync as the offense, but a Michigan offense that had been struggling in many ways really took it to them.

Hit the jump for the rest of the recap.

The QB position is in solid hands. For the first time since Jim Harbaugh arrived, it seems like the quarterback position as a whole is finally in a good spot. Shea Patterson (15/22 for 120 yards and 1 TD) was very accurate once again, and when he misses, it’s usually not too far off of where it should be going. He has consistently been hitting about two-thirds of his passes. Then redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey (3/8, 86 yards, 1 TD) came in as the #2 guy, and he looked to be in command of the offense yet again. He was putting the ball where it needed to be, and he hit freshman wideout Ronnie Bell perfectly in stride for a 56-yard touchdown. He should have had another touchdown, but sophomore receiver/defensive back Ambry Thomas dropped another deep pass that would have gone for about 50+ yards. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters came in late in the game and went 0/1 with an ugly interception, and he looked totally off-kilter on that play. Before he even threw the pass, I was concerned because you could tell his timing and footwork were off on the play-action. That’s a bit concerning, but he’s the #3 guy.

A Christian Turner sighting! There was word in the off-season that true freshman Christian Turner was the #3 running back, but when the season opener came, it was Tru Wilson as the #3 guy. With injuries to Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, Wilson has been playing #2 snaps. Turner had been wearing a cast on his hand, which would obviously limit your snaps as a ball carrier, but he was back in action on Saturday. He looked smaller than expected (I thought it was the 5’6″ Alijah Bradley reincarnated at first), but he played like he showed on film – a tough runner with decent quickness and good vision. He was going against a lot of backups from Nebraska who didn’t seem to have a lot of fight in them, but it was still a positive showing for his first career game action.

The offensive line played its best game. It was a blowout win against a team that didn’t put up much of a fight, but I thought the offensive line looked solid in this game – better than they did against SMU or Western Michigan, two lower-tier programs than Nebraska. Juwann Bushell-Beatty was caving down the right side of the line at times, and left guard Ben Bredeson did some nice work on the left side. The pass protection was not great, but it was better than it had been, and the effectiveness of the run game on the play action passing was evident.

Devin Bush, Jr. is a bad man. Nebraska could not escape from Devin Bush, Jr. when he was still in the game. The Cornhuskers aren’t extremely talented at the running back position right now, but Bush showed his sideline-to-sideline speed once again, and his angles are superb. You almost never see him take a poor angle to get to his destination. He finished with 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. The improvement on the interior defensive line, which allowed Bush to go side-to-side so easily coincided with the return of Lawrence Marshall to the lineup at defensive tackle. That may be just a coincidence, but Marshall has improved from last year. He made 1 tackle and deflected 1 pass that turned into a diving Josh Metellus interception.

Nebraska couldn’t do anything. This game was the type where it almost became boring to watch the other team play offense, because Michigan’s defense was playing so well. It doesn’t matter if you go to the bathroom or to get a snack, as long as you’re only gone for the time span of three plays and a punt. In between, you know there was a short pass snuffed out for no gain, a run that was swallowed up behind or at the line of scrimmage, and then an incomplete pass before the punt. They ended up with 132 total yards, most of which came against the third-stringers in the fourth quarter.

Donovan Peoples-Jones did that thing again. Peoples-Jones had a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown, just like he did last year against Air Force. He took it down the right side, and then he just toyed with the punter by pulling out a loose spin move in the middle of the field shortly before he hit the endzone. He’s such a good athlete that he didn’t need to spin or dive into the endzone, but he did anyway, just to increase the level of difficulty.

Ronnie Bell did that thing again, for the first time. Bell’s 56-yard touchdown catch from McCaffrey was a thing of beauty, but it didn’t look new. Why? Because it was exactly like his whole high school highlight reel. He catches a deep pass, swivels his hips to make a defender flail helplessly, and then speeds his way into the endzone. You can see where that agility would have made him a successful basketball player at Missouri State if he had gone in that direction, but instead, he’s doing those things in front of 100,000 people at Michigan Stadium. I wouldn’t mind seeing him return some punts in the future, too, and it looks like he’s #2 on the depth chart at returner.

Running back roulette. Michigan’s run game this season has been really odd. Karan Higdon came into the season as the #1 guy, and he performed well in this game (12 carries, 136 yards, 1 TD). Chris Evans has looked okay, but he pulled his hamstring last week. Tru Wilson (6 carries, 43 yards) has been playing a lot more than anyone expected, and I already mentioned Christian Turner. What I didn’t expect to see was fullback Ben Mason lining up 7 yards deep as a single back to run some zone plays down near the goal line, but he turned that – and some dive plays from his more traditional fullback spot – into 6 carries for 18 yards and 3 touchdowns. If fantasy football existed in college football, it would be tough to draft the correct Michigan running back right now.

Khaleke Hudson targeted again. Yes, it was the right call, and yes, he deserves to sit out for the first half of next week’s game against Northwestern. He lowered his head and hit the facemask of Nebraska’s QB in a play somewhat similar to when Michigan QB Shane Morris got concussed against Minnesota in 2014. Hudson needs to learn how to tackle. This is two consecutive games where he’s been bounced for targeting, and officials are going to start keeping an extra close eye on him in the future. I don’t think Hudson is a dirty player, but he really needs to focus on the fundamentals of legal tackling.

Will Hart averaged 59.3 yards per punt. The biggest surprise of the year so far is a boring one that casual observers probably haven’t seen on the highlight shows, but Michigan’s punter is averaging 52.6 yards per punt through four games this year. For some perspective, the highest season-long average going back to 2009 was Georgia’s Drew Butler (48.05 yards/punt). Hart would be #2 in the country right now (Georgia State’s punter is averaged 52.8) if he punted enough to qualify. I fully expect Hart’s average to drop as the competition gets tougher and the weather gets colder later in the season, but what he’s doing right now is awesome.

32 comments

  1. DonAZ
    Comments: 395
    Joined: 8/12/2015
    DonAZ
    Sep 23, 2018 at 7:40 AM

    It was a nice, satisfying win. The unknown is how much was due to Nebraska. It could be they’re a truly bad team this year.

    Next week will be an interesting test. Northwestern is not a world-beater team, but it’s an away game for Michigan, and it’s in the late afternoon. And if memory serves, it’s natural grass there. Another “total domination” game would be great, but I’ll settle for a “game never really in doubt” game.

    Nice distribution of receiving yards — 11 different receivers, with Grant Perry leading the pack with 4 catches, with Gentry next with 3. Plus, Higdon, Wilson, and Samuels all catching balls out of the backfield.

    • Comments: 843
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      WindyCityBlue
      Sep 23, 2018 at 10:10 AM

      Perry had 4 catches for 5 yards. Nuf sed. I think we should just abandon the pretense of even having such a thing as a “slot” receiver, because it really doesn’t seem to mean anything.

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 3886
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Sep 23, 2018 at 11:17 AM

        Perry often (usually?) lines up at outside WR. Michigan’s base set is 2 TE/2 WR and Perry seems to be the #2 or #3 option.

        • Comments: 843
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          WindyCityBlue
          Sep 23, 2018 at 3:36 PM

          Exactly…so why do people act like we need a spot on the depth chart for “slot” receiver?

          • Thunder
            Comments: 2628
            Joined: 7/13/2015
            Sep 23, 2018 at 6:18 PM

            Why is there a spot on the depth chart for running backs when sometimes they line up out wide? Why is Ben Mason a fullback when he’s lining up as a single back? Why was Jake Butt a tight end when he lined up out wide? It’s a designation to help people understand where the player might play and have certain strengths.

            • Comments: 843
              Joined: 8/11/2015
              WindyCityBlue
              Sep 23, 2018 at 6:52 PM

              Silly argument. There are actual positions of fullback, running back and tight end, that are each functionally different than any other position on the field. A “slot” receiver is not a different animal than any other receiver, at least not the way we use it.

              • Thunder
                Comments: 2628
                Joined: 7/13/2015
                Sep 23, 2018 at 7:48 PM

                There are also different positions within the framework of an offense. For example, there’s a Y tight end and a W (or U or H, depending on the terminology). You can get as technical as you want. There’s an X and a Z receiver. Ohio State calls their slot receiver/running back hybrid an H-back. It doesn’t mean an X can’t play the Z or an H can’t play the Y.

                I think you would find that in three-wide sets, Perry spends more time in the slot than anyone else. And if Tarik Black were still healthy, we would probably see more of Black and Peoples-Jones on the outside with Perry in the slot. With the current depth chart, we all knew Perry was going to play more on the outside after Black’s injury.

                • Comments: 843
                  Joined: 8/11/2015
                  WindyCityBlue
                  Sep 23, 2018 at 8:06 PM

                  What does a “slot” receiver do that a non-slot receiver never does? What does a non-slot receiver do that a “slot” receiver never does? If you can’t answer those questions, there is no fundamental difference between those jobs.

                • Thunder
                  Comments: 2628
                  Joined: 7/13/2015
                  Sep 23, 2018 at 8:14 PM

                  Silly question. Vincent Smith (RB) threw passes (QB?). Jehu Chesson (WR) lined up next to the OT in a 3-point stance (TE?). Eddie McDoom (WR) lined up in the backfield (RB?). Lots of players do lots of different things.

                  Also, it’s not hurting anything to peg someone as a slot receiver, so stop whining about it.

              • Lanknows
                Comments: 3886
                Joined: 8/11/2015
                Lanknows
                Sep 23, 2018 at 8:16 PM

                There’s a point of diminishing returns. Rarely do people feel the need to differentiate personnel as LG/RG or Boundary/Field CB or outside WRs (Z or otherwise). The positioning is consistently different but the skills and needs for the position overlap so much, it’s not worth drawing attention to.

                When looking at things like functional depth, roster needs, recruiting strategy it’s downright misleading to be overly precise.

                It’s a matter of opinion of what is the right level of detail. Do we want to say one guy is flex TE and not a U, H, whatever TE. Most don’t because most TEs are lining up wherever. We rotate 3 CBs without any visible difference. Do we went to talk about the strong and free safety? – in some schemes yes but in most cases the personnel is asked to do the same things. It can be an interesting detail if you’re talking about a play but it rarely matters for thinking about personnel.

                We’ve seen nominal slots, again and again and again, get used as outside WRs and nominal outside WRs used inside. Let’s be honest, it’s usually lazy generalizing about height. Under 6’1: you’re a slot. Over it: you’re an outside WR. It doesn’t really work that way in practice. Many of the best WRs in the NFL will probably called slots at some point and it’s been that way for over a decade.

                If the coaches think this way it might even be a disservice to the team to limit putting the best guy out there as often as they might.

                So – I think there’s a legitimate point here to the WR distinction having little to no value for fans, in this offense. I would argue the same thing for MIKE and WIL, in this defense.

                • Thunder
                  Comments: 2628
                  Joined: 7/13/2015
                  Sep 23, 2018 at 8:39 PM

                  Yikes. I disagree with a lot of this. But I’m not going to continue arguing about it.

                  Agree to disagree. The labeling of slot receivers will continue when deemed suitable.

                • Lanknows
                  Comments: 3886
                  Joined: 8/11/2015
                  Lanknows
                  Sep 24, 2018 at 11:59 AM

                  That’s too bad. I think it’d be an interesting discussion and I”d be curious if there are specific examples that stick out to you (at Michigan). For “slots” I think of guys like Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway who were used interchangeably between inside and out by the time they were upperclassmen.

              • Comments: 8
                Joined: 9/28/2015
                Asquaredroot
                Sep 24, 2018 at 2:34 AM

                Hi Windy City,
                Unfortunately, my browser isn’t allowing me to respond to your post below regarding what exactly it is that a slot receiver does.
                So here’s my attempt to help clarify:
                A slot receiver typically lines up somewhere between the offensive line and the wideout who is usually the farthest one from the center on a given side (left or right) of the center and QB.
                If there’s a tight-end on the same side of the ball as the slot…usually the tight end is closer to the ball than the slot receiver.
                Sometimes, there aren’t any wideouts further away from the ball than the slot receiver and the weird thing is.. sometimes the slot receiver is still lined up pretty close to the offensive line, but still other times he’s pretty far away, sort of like a wideout.

                Ok, so that was all pre-snap formation concepts. Routes are where it gets a little more complicated. Sometimes the slot receiver will just run straight up the hashes to get open on a route (aka a ‘fly’ route), while other times they might run diagonally across the middle of the field (slant). There are other fancy route names like ‘square-in’, ‘curl’, ‘shuck-n-jive’ and ‘pants floss’ that slot receivers or other ball catchers can run. Sometimes, just to confuse casual onlookers and the defense, the slot will run out wide while the wideout will run to the slot and that’s trickery that is hard to overcome for any defense or even seasoned onlookers.

                So as you can see, there are multiples for slot-receivers to be doing and we might not always recognize that they’re doing it if we haven’t determined who’s the slot before the snap. So I hope this cleared up some of the confusion about this designation.

                Let me know if any follow-up questions.
                Keep the pigskin side in!

      • DonAZ
        Comments: 395
        Joined: 8/12/2015
        DonAZ
        Sep 23, 2018 at 2:05 PM

        And other than Perry, we had:

        o Gentry, 3 catches, 32 yards
        o McKeaon, 2 catches, 29 yards
        o Collins, 2 catches 28 yards
        o Martin, 1 catch 15 yards
        o McCurry, 1 catch, 10 yards
        o Peoples-Jones, 1 catch 10 yards

        10 catches, 114 yards, 11.4 YPA

        That 11.4 is comparable to the top three nationally in YPA.

        No question the passing game is not so good it’s unstoppable. But it’s a hell of a lot better than last year, and a hell of a lot better than earlier in this year. It’s not just 2 and 3 yard “dink and dunk.”

        • Comments: 843
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          WindyCityBlue
          Sep 23, 2018 at 3:34 PM

          You mean, other than Perry, Wilson, Higdon and Samuels? Guess what? If you lop off every other team’s bottom four guys, their numbers will get jacked up, too. So, no…a cherry-picked 11.4 YPA will not even be close to the top 3 nationally under those criteria. And before you try to say that three of those guys are RBs, everyone else had RB receptions factored into their (much better) YPA yesterday. Only three teams in the top 25 had their starting QBs do worse than 5.5 YPA yesterday (not sure where the hell you got the 2 and 3 yards nonsense), and most did a LOT better.

          And sure, it’s nice to be better than last year or better than earlier this year, but in the end, those aren’t the teams we have to beat to be relevant this year.

          • DonAZ
            Comments: 395
            Joined: 8/12/2015
            DonAZ
            Sep 23, 2018 at 3:54 PM

            Thank you Mr. Saban. Or are you Mr. Belichick?

          • Comments: 8
            Joined: 9/28/2015
            Asquaredroot
            Sep 24, 2018 at 2:50 AM

            According to these stats:
            https://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/stats/teamsort/NCAAF/PASSING?_1:col_1=10

            we’re tied w/ Notre Dame, Cincy and Air Force for 47th-50th YPA on the season.

            I honestly don’t know where the hell we were last year after 4 games, but I bet it was somewhat lower in the rankings even with seasoned start Wil Speight.

            New QB learning the ropes plus the following upgrades over 2017: better receivers, more polished TE’s and what seems to be an improved and still ascending O-line all point to better results. So I wouldn’t get my panties in a bunch over a 5.5 YPA game for Patterson. Thus far he’s looked more savvy and capable than any QB last year.

            No reason to pop champagne corks and toast future victories, but plenty to be optimistic about.

  2. Comments: 243
    Joined: 12/24/2016
    INTJohn
    Sep 23, 2018 at 8:32 AM

    Once again, the Play of the Game goes to the Defence with Metellus on the ‘receiving’ end…………

    With Nebraska driving on the game’s first possession and a team desperately in need of Confidence………..Marshal’s batting of the Martinez pass which enabled the Metellus interception; destroying any semblance of belief in themselves that the Cornhuskers were developing.

    The game was over at that point……………INTJohn

    • Comments: 978
      Joined: 1/19/2016
      je93
      Sep 23, 2018 at 10:02 AM

      Agree. If they got that slant for a TD, Thunder’s 24-17 outcome is a lot more likely
      Instead, we jumped out quick and never looked back. Nebraska unraveled before the end of the 1Q

  3. Comments: 92
    Joined: 9/13/2015
    AC1997
    Sep 23, 2018 at 9:13 AM

    I thought Nebraska had a solid interior OL so seeing another good game from Kemp was encouraging. I also loved the play where Gary took care of both guys on an option by himself.

    Our OL isn’t great and we will have some challenges ahead, but their run blocking is rounding into form.

    Finally, I loved Harbaugh’s explanation for why Mason got so many carries, “Inertia”

  4. Comments: 843
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    WindyCityBlue
    Sep 23, 2018 at 9:45 AM

    Yeah, Nebraska is pretty not good. After having watched the game, it’s hard to see where our nervousness about them came from, because they really are lacking in playmakers. I can only attribute it to general paranoia about any team with a QB who can move his legs.

    Still, probably our best half of football in a couple years. The defense finally started playing like they were supposed to and being disruptive. If they had pinned their ears back in the second half, they probably could have put Nebraska into negative yardage. But better to give the first line guys a rest and give some others some reps.

    The Oline definitely looked better, especially Bredeson, and our RBs all ran hard. The younger ones still have a ways to go, but they had some encouraging flashes.

    Our passing game, frankly, continues to be underwhelming. Patterson was fine, but no better than that, and it’s really not all on him, but we still are a dink-and-dunk passing offense, and that’s not going to get it done against anyone with a pulse. 5.5 YPA against an unimpressive defense is just plain bad, and a 68% completion percentage on such short passes is also not very impressive. I look over at Dwayne Haskins hitting 88% of his passes with 12.7 YPA and I can see our passing game has a very long way to go before it can make a difference in big games. Cripes, Old Dominion’s backup QB came cold off the bench and threw for 495 yards and 10 YPA against a top 15 team, and I guarantee that their talent at every position on the field is two notches below ours. It really is not that difficult to field an effective, well conceived passing game, but our coaches just don’t seem able to manage it.

    • mos12
      Comments: 30
      Joined: 8/15/2016
      mos12
      Sep 23, 2018 at 9:59 AM

      I favor the offense doing the minimum amount that they need to do to win these early games. Why would we want to put on tape a 300+ yard passing game when we don’t need it? I don’t doubt that with the talent that we have we can open it up and play with anyone. I’ve seen two different quarterbacks drop inch perfect passes well downfield for touchdowns. Let’s see someone stop the rushing game first and then open it up.

      Save it for Staee.

      • Comments: 843
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        WindyCityBlue
        Sep 23, 2018 at 10:06 AM

        Sorry, but the tired old “we don’t want to give away the playbook” meme needs to be taken out behind the woodshed and shot, then buried deep. It’s about talent, design of plays and execution. We don’t have a secret stash of much better passing plays that are going to magically appear when we need them and surprise our opponents out of their jocks. We just don’t. Did Ohio State look worried about putting up a big passing game against a team they didn’t need it to beat?

        • Comments: 23
          Joined: 1/29/2016
          maizinblue88
          Sep 23, 2018 at 10:10 AM

          Our passing game isn’t as good as OSU or PSU as you say, but in this game it was fine. Michigan dinked and dunked it because it was unnecessary to throw it deep and put Patterson into harm’s way. The two deep passes he did throw were beautiful and would have been completions except for clear pass interference that wasn’t called.

    • Blue in NC
      Comments: 41
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Blue in NC
      Sep 23, 2018 at 10:24 AM

      The passing game was fine. Would have been about 150 yards more if not for blatant pass interference plays that somehow were not called. Even the clueless announcers noticed it. And Thomas had one clear drop of a long pass. We took several shots downfield plus we didn’t really need to go bomb-happy after it was clear that the game would be one-sided. The score was 39-0 at half and yet you are complaining.

      • Comments: 843
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        WindyCityBlue
        Sep 23, 2018 at 10:34 AM

        Did I, or did I not say “probably our best half of football in a couple years”? Is that what you mean by “complaining”?

        Do you or do you not agree that 5.5 YPA against a weak defense is bad, and will not stand us in good stead against the quality opponents on our schedule?

        I’ll be surprised if you answer any of those questions directly. I’ll also be surprised if you can tell me how Spencer Tillman is “clueless”.

        • Comments: 978
          Joined: 1/19/2016
          je93
          Sep 23, 2018 at 10:54 AM

          The YPA take was already answered. I’m not one to complain about Refs, but Shea’s YPA is a lot different if PI wasn’t being ignored due to blowout. Even before the half, he had a 40+ yard TD to Nico that was clearly grabbed & tugged on. It wasn’t called, and doesn’t matter, but there’s your YPA, completion percentage & another TD, in one no-call

          • Comments: 843
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            WindyCityBlue
            Sep 23, 2018 at 11:09 AM

            You act as if that only happens to us. Everyone has PI no-calls factored into their YPA at some point. Patterson’s QB rating yesterday was worse than Nebraska’s walk-on freshman backup.

            Try again.

            • Comments: 978
              Joined: 1/19/2016
              je93
              Sep 23, 2018 at 11:23 AM

              No, I get that. That’s why I started with not liking to blame Refs. I only point it out because it happened, and if you’re going to be selective about stats after a blowout, you could try applying some critical thinking skills
              For example, DMac’s completion percentage looks awful, but we saw AThomas drop a long TD, and then he had a throw away. All of a sudden – because I watched the game and not just the stats – his stat line doesn’t bother me at all

              • Comments: 843
                Joined: 8/11/2015
                WindyCityBlue
                Sep 23, 2018 at 12:22 PM

                Yes, McCaffrey made mostly very good throws yesterday, despite only completing 3, and he passes the eyeball test, as does Patterson. If you recall, I said the 5.5 YPA is not all on him. But the fact remains that our passing game as a whole is fundamentally limited, for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to, shaky pass protection and limited coaching imagination. If we can’t do better than we did yesterday going forward, we will lose every game that matters this year.

                • Comments: 978
                  Joined: 1/19/2016
                  je93
                  Sep 23, 2018 at 12:53 PM

                  That’s fair enough

  5. Lanknows
    Comments: 3886
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Sep 23, 2018 at 11:38 AM

    It was nice to get Higdon and Marshall back. The run game crushed it.

    Excellent and comprehensive victory. One to enjoy since those don’t happen to often against Big Ten competition (excluding Rutgers – who shouldn’t be).

    I don’t think Nebraska is as bad as some are saying. They outgained Troy and Colorado who both look like decent teams. But Nebraska were outdone by turnovers. Those may continue given all their freshman. Still – Nobody has run the ball like Michigan did on Nebraska. 280 yards.

    That said, I do think Nebraska gave up early in this one. They got hit by big plays on offense and defense very early and the game was decided.

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