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November 10, 2013

Five & Five: Nebraska 17, U-M 13

Ranking the top five players, biggest plays, encouraging points, gameday stories and Tweets from Michigan's 17-13 loss to Nebraska.

Top Five Players

1. Nebraska sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory: Coming into Saturday's game, Gregory, who transferred to Nebraska from Arizona Western Community College before the 2013 season, had never posted more than 0.5 sacks in a single game. That changed in a big way against the Wolverines. Gregory went off against Michigan, taking redshirt quarterback Devin Gardner down three times. Gardner was sacked a whopping seven times on the afternoon, and Gregory was a big reason why.

2. Nebraska junior running back Ameer Abdullah: Abdullah came into the game ranked sixth nationally in rushing yards per game (138.5). He didn't quite reach his season average, but he was a thorn in Michigan's side all game. Abdullah finished with 27 rushes for 105 yards (3.9 yards per attempt) and a touchdown on the ground. He also put the final dagger in the Wolverines' hopes of victory, taking a forward pitch five yards into the end zone for the game-sealing score.

3. Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Cam Gordon: The Nebraska offense was shut down for most of the second, third and fourth quarters, until a game-winning drive at the end of the game. Gordon helped play a big part in Michigan's long stretch of stalwart defense. He finished with a game-high eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, the first of his career. It seemed like he was around the ball any time the Cornhuskers tried to get something going offensively.

4. Nebraska redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr.: For much of the game, Armstrong - and the Nebraska offense, as a whole - was ineffective. But Armstrong came up big when it mattered most, leading a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 6:05 off the clock to go up 17-13 with just over two minutes left to play. Armstrong finished 11-of-19 passing for 139 yards and a touchdown and added 12 yards on the ground.

5. Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess: From the final score of the Indiana game to the third quarter of the Nebraska game, Michigan did not score a touchdown for a disheartening 96:16 stretch of game time. Funchess snapped that streak with a five-yard catch that knotted the score at 10 with 9:56 to go in the third quarter. Funchess finished the game with team-highs in catches (six) and receiving yards (66). He also had an impressive 23-yard catch and run on a rocket screen over the middle.

Top Five Biggest Plays

1. Third down. Five yards separated a game-tying field goal attempt and a game-sealing touchdown run. Junior defensive end Frank Clark came off the edge to smother Armstrong - and it appeared as though he had saved the day. Unfortunately, no linebackers had flowed over to take Abdullah, the pitchman. As Clark buried Armstrong, the quarterback flicked a forward pitch Abdullah's way, and he bulled his way into the end zone for the winning touchdown.

2. Two plays before the final touchdown, Michigan had forced a fourth and two at the Michigan 31-yard line. The Cornhuskers split two receiver off wide to the left, and Michigan sent freshmen Dymonte Thomas and Channing Stribling to cover them. The rookies gave eight-yard cushions on the play, and Armstrong checked to hook patterns. Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell caught a ball, shook a tackle from Stribling and changed the game with a 26-yard pickup.

3. Midway through the fourth quarter, with the score knotted at 10 and both offenses struggling to find traction, Michigan got a huge break. Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp muffed a punt, which sophomore slot receiver Dennis Norfleet caught on a hop and raced 26 yards into the end zone, sending the Michiagn Stadium crowd into a tizzy. Unfortunately, it's against the rules to advance a muffed punt. Also unfortunately, Michigan gained just three yards on the ensuing possession, settling for a field goal.

4. Michigan amassed just 31 yards of total offense in the first quarter. It followed that up with just 29 total yards in the second quarter. And then the Wolverines gave fans a brief smidgen of hope. On the first snap of the third quarter, Gardner hit fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint on a throwback screen that went for 25 yards. Michigan finished the drive with a touchdown but did not do much else, offensively, for the rest of the game.

5. Hope is a fickle thing. The clock was inside a minute to go, and the Michigan Stadium crowd was still hoping for some magic. But on fourth and five from the 41-yard line, Gardner misfired on a pass to senior wide receiver Drew Dileo, effectively ending the game.

Top Five Encouraging Points

1. Nebraska gained 113 yards and scored 10 points in the first quarter, and ended the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive. In between, the defense held the Cornhuskers to 77 total yards of offense in three-and-a-half quarters of work. When the defense plays a full 60 minutes, it's going to be scary-good.

2. Junior kicker Matt Wile has had his ups and downs in the punting department this year, but it looks like he is really hitting his stride. He came just three yards shy of the Michigan program record with a 69-yard punt - into a strong wind - Saturday.

3. The Wolverines have struggled with turnovers during Michigan coach Brady Hoke's tenure, but they held onto the ball against the Cornhuskers, avoiding costly turnovers while collecting two from Nebraska.

4. The Michigan defense held Nebraska to 6.3 yards per passing attempt, 0.7 yards per attempt fewer than the Cornhuskers are averaging this season. For comparison's sake, Florida International ranks 97th nationally in yards per passing attempt with a 6.3 average.

5. This season has not gone the way anyone had planned. But now the Wolverines have nothing to lose. They have played too tight in the last two games. Just let it rip and see what happens from here on out.

Top Five Gameday Stories

1. If you've been to a Michigan game - home or away - in the last few decades, I'm sure you have run into SuperFan at some point. I remember giving him a high-five on the concourse of Michigan Stadium before the 1997 Ohio State game when I was 10 years old. He may have retired the batman mask, but he's still partying, and he is the chairman of the world's greatest tailgate, which I have been lucky enough to be a part of for the last three years. SuperFan celebrated his 40th birthday Saturday, and we celebrated it with this great cake. I know he appreciated it, but I'm sure he would have traded the cake for a Michigan win.

2. Did your heart leap into your chest when three parachuters sky-bombed into Michigan Stadium before the game? The wind was a swirling mess before, during and after the game in Ann Arbor, and I swear, the trio of skydivers dropped 100 feet in a second, just before leveling out for a safe landing on The Big House astroturf.

3. My cousin Graham, who's a ninth-grade marching band aficionado, makes it to one game a year with his dad Mike, my uncle. Graham surprised everyone at the tailgate, with this getup. Party on, Graham.

4. This is the world's greatest game of Jenga, and it makes a heck of a noise when it finally topples over.

5. As the clocked ticked closer to the 3:30 p.m. kickoff, the Rolaids tent set up at Pioneer High School began handing out whole boxes of rolls of tummy-settling tablets. If Michigan keeps playing the way it did Saturday, you may want to keep that in mind for future use.

Top Five Tweets

1. No, Never




2. I Sense Sarcasm…




3. Ugh.




4. Well, At Least They Had A Good Time




5. I'm Sorry, But I Wrote A Great Tweet




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