Michigan 32, Nebraska 29

Michigan 32, Nebraska 29

October 10, 2021
Hassan Haskins (image via Courier Express)

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I predicted a 34-28 victory for Michigan (LINK), which was only 3 total points off. And if Michigan hadn’t whiffed on their two-point conversion attempt, it would have been even closer. Essentially, the game went almost exactly how I thought it would. I thought Michigan would be ahead late and then force a turnover, stopping a final drive, much like what happened against Rutgers. Instead, Michigan and Nebraska were tied late, and Brad Hawkins forced a fumble, leading to the game-winning field goal. Nebraska is a tough place to play at night – which we learned back in 2012 when Denard Robinson hurt his elbow and Russell Bellomy entered disastrously. Escaping with a victory this time feels good.

Hit the jump for more.

Nebraska is tough to defend. I mentioned this in the game preview, but Nebraska’s offense is what I wish we would see from Michigan. The options, screens, tempo, etc. are what I would want to run if I were suddenly made offensive coordinator of an FBS team. Of course, Michigan doesn’t have a speedy Adrian Martinez-like quarterback to make it work, and I’m not sure Adrian Martinez is The Prototype, anyway. He seems to have a tendency to make mistakes at critical times, just like he did with the late fumble. They use receivers in a lot of different ways – deep threats, screen-catchers, option pitch men, etc. – and their tempo makes it difficult to line up correctly and execute.

Thank goodness for Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. Both of those guys are good arguments for Why Running Backs Matter. Yes, Michigan has an improved offensive line from certain years in the past, but those guys create yards that other guys don’t. Corum ran for 89 yards on 13 carries (6.9 YPC) with 1 touchdown, while Haskins ground out 123 yards and 2 touchdowns on 21 attempts (5.9 YPC). Haskins continuously gained yards after contact – including an extra 3 yards and a first down when the officials inexplicably ruled him down before the marker – by pushing the pile and leaping a defender. There have been years in the past decade or so where Michigan’s backs would not have been good enough to win this game. Both of those guys have been difference-makers this season.

Michigan’s wide receiver depth could be an issue. People were talking about the depth of Michigan’s wide receiver corps prior to the season, and I didn’t understand it. Yes, Michigan has talent, but they don’t have numbers or a ton of experience. With Ronnie Bell out for the season and Roman Wilson missing this game, the team was down to using all of its non-freshman receivers. Daylen Baldwin, Mike Sainristil, and Cornelius Johnson all played a major role in this game, while A.J. Henning played as a punt returner. That group right there is every scholarship receiver Michigan has except freshmen Cristian Dixon and Andrel Anthony.

Quarterback roulette. Michigan is really playing with fire with its rotation of Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy. McNamara had a subpar game (22/38, 255 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) but mostly managed the team efficiently and took what was there. I thought his receivers hung him out to dry a couple times, such as a drop in the end zone by Baldwin and a poor adjustment on a deep ball by Cornelius Johnson. He doesn’t/can’t run the ball, so I understand the interest in playing McCarthy. But putting McCarthy in the game in obvious run situations is a recipe for trouble, just like it was at the end of the game. On 3rd-and-4 with Michigan needing at least a field goal to take the lead, the Wolverines inserted McCarthy – telegraphing a run since passing would be too dangerous – who obviously kept the ball, lost 5 yards, and nearly fumbled. Luckily, kicker Jake Moody still made the field goal to win the game.

I liked the way Michigan handled Martinez. Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez is always going to make a few plays a game because of his feet, but I liked the way Michigan handled him on the option for the most part. Rather than attacking him and trying to crush him, the edge guys slow-played the option, helping to string it out to the sideline and delay the pitch. Martinez carried the ball 8 times for 38 yards, but 20 of those yards came on one play, meaning the other 7 carries were tamped down for 18 net yards.

I did not love the way Michigan handled Nebraska overall. First of all, Michigan won the game so yay, and they shut out Nebraska in the first half, so also yay. But I would prefer to use zone coverage against Nebraska, because the tempo, motions, and running quarterback make it difficult to run man. Tempo makes it hard to figure out who’s covering whom, motions do the same thing, and a running QB makes him tough to track if all the defensive backs and linebackers have their eyes on their man. Zone coverage leaves a team open to being hit by RPO’s, but you can still keep things in front of you and you don’t have massive busts like on the Austin Allen TD and the Rahmir Johnson TD. Man coverage on those plays left wide-open receivers in space and allowed some embarrassingly easy touchdowns.

Props to Jake Moody. Place kicking is boring except when it goes bad, but I think it’s worth noting that Jake Moody was 4-for-4 on field goals, including makes from 21, 31, 35, and 39, the longest being the game-winner.

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