While in the game Denard was dialed in with the passing game for the most part. A mix of short precise routes and downfield passes kept Nebraska off balance and passive. Denard threw a beautiful post route to Roy Roundtree that was later ruled incomplete after replay and he continually found Jeremy Jackson in holes in the Nebraska zone. Denard missed an opportunity on the zone read in the first half that would have likely resulted in a big play.
Two years ago Michigan fans got used to Denard Robinson getting knocked out of games for extended periods of time. The presence of first Devin Gardner, then Tate Forcier soothed most fears and Michigan rarely missed a beat when #16 left the field. A lot has changed in two years. Russell Bellomy is the next man up and he struggled mightily on Saturday. Down on the scoreboard and on the road in a very hostile environment is never a great place to make your meaningful QB play debut. Bellomy did take over deep in Nebraska territory but accuracy issues and nerves kept him from leading the Wolverines to the endzone. Eventually Bellomy settled down; but the accuracy and decision making did not improve and he never really presented Nebraska with much of a threat. Bellomy didn’t receive a ton of help from his receivers either. Even on those plays where Bellomy did deliver the ball accurately, the ball was dropped more times than not.
Fitzgerald Toussaint got off to a fast Saturday on Saturday and looked as good as he has all season early in the game. Fitz was decisive, his cuts were precise, and he fought for extra yards. As the night wore on and the holes closed the production for all the runners declined, Fitz included. Vincent Smith was the only other back that received a carry in the game and he finished with minus 6 yards on the ground.
Joe Kerridge was the first Wolverine to catch a pass from Russell Bellomy, getting him off the snide with a 12 yd reception that went for a first down.
It was a night to forget for the receiving unit. Dropped passes plagued the entire receiving core from the slots right down to the TE’s. Roundtree’s early “drop” on the deep post seemed to set the tone for the rest of the night. Jeremy Jackson made several very nice catches in underneath coverage, including several in traffic. Jackson has massive frame and has the physical tools to produce at WR. Jackson has had issues with aggressiveness and getting separation from defenders, at least one of those issues appears to have worked themselves out.
As a whole the receivers really struggled though. Devin Funchess, Jeremy Gallon, Rountree, and Devin Gardner all dropped passes and really made things difficult on both Denard and Russell Bellomy.
The offensive line has drawn a lot of criticism following Saturday’s game and rightfully so. Unlike last week when Michigan faced an ultra talented front seven, there were plays to be made against the Nebraska front seven. The line, especially on the interior, really struggled to maintain blocks and seal defenders. The initial push was good at times but all too often defenders were able to shed blocks and make plays. Nebraska was able to defend the run with 2 deep safeties which should never happen. It may take a coach, it may take another player, but this offensive line needs to have their manhood challenged. Because right now they are far from where they need to be.
Even in pass protection, which has been strength, the line struggled to play at a high level. Nebraska didn’t blitz Denard yet he was still forced to vacate the pocket. Once Bellomy took over and Nebraska started to dial up more exotic blitz packages things really went south.
Nebraska has one of the biggest and most physical offensive lines in the B1G. The defensive line had their work cut out for them from the start and while they didn’t play perfect, they made more good plays than bad. Craig Roh was an animal for the second straight game and he always seemed to be around the ball or the QB. Roh led the team with 2 TFLs including a sack where he completely blew through an overmatched RB. The light may have finally gone off for Roh after what has been a largely underachieving career at Michigan. The DTs had their hands full with Nebraska’s interior linemen but were still able to force most inside running plays into the arms of waiting teammates. Ondre Pipkins played what was probably his best game of the season. Pipkins has gotten much better with his hands and penetrating at the snap of the ball. The rush ends continue their deafly silent play from a pressure standpoint. Jibreel Black made several nice plays in run support and in pursuit.
Once again the LBers led the way for the defense. All three starting LBers registered a TFL, Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan ranked 1st and 2nd on the team in tackles. Morgan was all over the play in run support and pass coverage, tipping a pass that led to Michigan’s lone takeaway on the day.
Nebraska has been a play action, vertical passing team all season and they made no attempt to alter their habits against the Wolverines. The Huskers went after the Michigan secondary down the field and made their share of plays. Michigan played more zone in this game than any other this season in order to try to contain the legs of Taylor Martinez, than had consequences for the secondary. Raymon Taylor really struggled in both zone and man coverage and didn’t have his best day. The secondary should work in consort when playing zone coverage but that did not happen on Saturday. Players were confused and Nebraska did a great job of isolating guys in coverage and taking advantage of what appeared to be obvious inexperience within the scheme. Both Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon found themselves match up with WRs in space and dealing with combination routes and they really struggled in breaking to the ball. Michigan lack of overall speed the secondary was on full display in this game though players were able to come up and make tackles for the most part.
Last week Matt Wile showed what kind of leg he had after booting a 48yd FG. Michigan sent Wile back out to attempt another long kick, this one from 53, and Wile came up short. Wile also had issues kicking the ball through the endzone after doing a great job with touchbacks early in the year. Brendan Gibbon got the next shot at a long FG and he booted a 52yd kick through the uprights with room to spare.
Early in the season the kick return unit was doing a great job of opening up seams for Dennis Norfleet to run through. The unit has struggled in doing so in the last few weeks. Norfleet averaged just 23yds per attempt on Saturday and took several wicked hits on the return.
The wind changed often throughout the game on Saturday which seemed to affect Will Hagerup’s punting. Hagerup managed to average just 39.8yds per punt after leading the nation in punting all season.
A: Unit played as close to flawless as possible. Unit played well enough to win the game on their own.
B: Unit had a major positive impact on the game but also had several assignment/execution miscues.
C: Unit did not negatively or positively affect the game. Unit made key positive plays along with several errors.
D: Unit made multiple critical errors that could potentially cost the team a win. Unit blew assignments and had poor execution across the board.
F: Play of the unit was bad enough that it could directly cost the team a victory.
Note: Plus and minuses denote degrees of the grade.