Before Saturday's game there was talk of a possible at-large berth in a BCS game for Nebraska. But after a 45-17 loss to Michigan the Huskers are just looking to salvage whatever they possibly can from the 2011 season.
The Wolverines right from the kickoff outplayed Nebraska. The Huskers dodged bullets early and were fortunate to tie the game at 10 and to only be down by seven going into halftime. That said, they did have some opportunities (i.e. the Terrence Moore interception) that they took advantage of, but not fully.
The series of events in the second half beginning with the Ameer Abdullah touchdown was when Michigan put the game away. The roughing the kicker penalty was what shifted the momentum back to the Wolverines. Wil Richards had a chance to block the punt (which would have given Nebraska a huge boost) but instead he grazed the punter's foot. It should have been a five-yard running into the kicker penalty and a re-kick, but instead Michigan went on to score a touchdown, effectively putting the game out of reach.
That being said, the penalty was not the reason Nebraska lost the game: they were still out-played in every facet of the game. Michigan had their way with the Nebraska defense – though Lavonte David played a tremendous game – and the Husker offense was anemic… 254 yards of total offense isn't going to win very many games. The special teams was probably the worst unit of all, with numerous mistakes including two fumbles on kickoff returns (Kenny Bell's to begin the second half being extremely crucial) and Maher's punt being blocked.
A couple of key statistics from the game besides the turnovers: first, time of possession. Michigan had the ball for more than two-thirds of the game. Nebraska's offense couldn't sustain drives and that forced the defense out on the field for huge chunks of time. By the end of the game the defense couldn't stop anything because they were simply worn out. The second stat related to this is third down conversions. Michigan finished at 44% on third downs, but was well over 50% for much of the game. Nebraska ended the game at 23% but at one point was only one of nine (11%) on third downs. This was what allowed for the huge discrepancy in time of possession.
There aren't a lot of positives for Nebraska to take from this game. You can look at Lavonte David's performance, (17 tackles) but he was making those plays 10 or more yards down the field much of the time. Or you can say that the flashes of offense were encouraging. Namely the 54 yard pass to Brandon Kinnie out of the diamond formation and the interesting option play that went from Martinez to Burkhead to Abdullah. However, 254 yards is 254 yards and plays like the Kinnie and Abdullah touchdowns need to come more consistently.
It was a devastating loss for the team, but the Huskers will have to bounce back quickly, because a loss to Iowa on Friday would completely ruin a season that still held promise up until the start of the game.
- Edited by Josh Harvey -