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November 9, 2013
Failure to capitalize on field position haunts Michigan
Michigan did not lose the field-position battle Saturday, starting, on average, at its own 33-yard line compared to Nebraska starting at its own 31-yard line.
U-M's punter, junior Matt Wile, outkicked Nebraska's Sam Foltz, averaging 48.8 yards per punt compared to Foltz's 43.0.
The Wolverines won the turnover battle, 2-0.
They lost the game because they couldn't do anything with good field position or off those turnovers.
Michigan took possession in NU territory three times - at the Nebraska 42-yard line late in the second quarter; at the Huskers' 33-yard line late in the third quarter; and at the NU 26-yard line early in the fourth quarter. On those three drives, the Maize and Blue mustered only four yards of offense, and would settle for a single field goal, turning the ball over on downs and missing a 52-yard field-goal attempt.
"We just didn't execute," head coach Brady Hoke said.
On the first series in Nebraska territory, Michigan redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner completed a seven-yard pass on first down but then took a one-yard loss - one of 15 negative rushing plays for the Wolverines. After an incomplete pass on third down, U-M went for it on a fourth, feeling a 53-yard field goal into swirling winds was not the best option. They came up empty.
The second series on NU's side of the field went backwards. Gardner misfired on first down, took a two-yard loss on a second-down run and couldn't hit senior receiver Jeremy Gallon on 3rd-and-12. Wile then missed the long field goal.
"I'm not the offensive coordinator but I feel like Coach [Al] Borges has a good handle on what to do," Gardner said. "I'm going to run what he calls and do my best to make it work. There were a lot of plays out there that we didn't make. That's on us."
Michigan's third opportunity deep in Nebraska territory may have been the most important, and most deflating. Sophomore gunner Dennis Norfleet hopped on the muffed punt and returned it into the end zone, however rules dictate the ball cannot be advanced. Still, Maize and Blue fans were giddy with anticipation.
Relying on three consecutive running plays, that left many bemoaning Borges' play-calling, U-M gained just three yards and settled for a field goal.
"I liked the play calling," Hoke said. "I think we thought we could do some things, and we didn't."
Michigan lost because it failed to accomplish two things it had been good at this season - converting turnovers into points and field position into points.
Entering Saturday, the Wolverines had scored eight touchdowns and kicked two field goals off 16 turnovers, but they settled for the lone field goal against Nebraska.
U-M had also started a drive in enemy territory 16 times in its first eight games and punched it in for six on nine occasions with three field goals. Only four times (once the end of a half), did Michigan fail to score, yet in the defeat to NU, they would come up short on two of those three possessions.
"There are a lot of tough plays out there, and sometimes we just don't get them," Gardner said.