F Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory unintentionally gave a scathing indictment of the Michigan offense, which was limited to negative-21 yards rushing. "They had certain tendencies," he said. "Whatever formation they came out in, we knew what they were going to throw at us."
Fifth-year senior running back Fitz Toussaint managed only six yards on nine carries. Freshman Derrick Green rushed for 11 yards on eight, and redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner was a non-factor in the running game, one in which three-yard runs seemed like big plays. There's something fundamentally wrong, and it's time for the staff to take a close look heading into the last three games.
D Gardner was sacked seven more times Saturday and held the ball too long on other occasions. Some of that was a result of his receivers being blanketed - other times he left the pocket too soon. He looked a step slow after the beating he took last week at Michigan State, and his confidence seemed shaken.
The receivers came up with some plays, the two biggest being screen passes to Toussaint and fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, but the pass blocking and blitz pick-up were poor again. Toussaint looked lost in that area, and the offensive line continues to regress. There were some nice throws, but overall the passing game seemed out of whack. Even sure handed senior Drew Dileo dropped a fourth down pass that should have kept the chains moving at the end.
C Running back Ameer Abdullah gashed the interior of the Michigan defense for 105 yards and a touchdown, averaging 3.9 yards per carry and losing only four yards. The Cornhuskers had enough success on the ground to keep the chains moving and keep the defense off balance, especially with the option. U-M seemed to struggle on the edge, which is how Nebraska scored its game-winning touchdown (a pitch to Abdullah for the score with just over two minutes remaining.
The Cornhuskers only averaged 3.0 yards per rush, but it seemed like more.
C- Tommy Armstrong isn't the most feared passer in the league by a long shot, but he had enough success to keep the defense off balance and hit on enough big plays to cap scoring drives. A 27-yard, third and 15 completion on Nebraska's first possession changed field position and led to a field goal on the Cornhuskers' second drive, while a fourth and two, 26-yarder to receiver Kenny Bell on the game-winning touchdown drive - a play on which the defensive backs were lined up five yards behind the first down marker - was a backbreaker.
Armstrong completed 11 of 19 passes for 139 yards and a score and was sacked only one time. He didn't throw all over the Michigan defense, but he made enough plays at winning time.
B Junior kicker Matt Wile's 69-yard punt into the wind, downed at the Nebraska three, was the critical play of the second quarter, keeping the Wolverines in the game when the offense was sputtering. The offense failed to take advantage, but it kept Michigan within striking distance. Wile also got the rolls on his shorter punts, netting 48.8 yards per kick.
Kick coverage was solid, with Wile booting all but one kickoff through the end zone, though the 'Huskers did manage punt returns of 10 and 17 yards. Fifth-year senior kicker Brendan Gibbons made both of his field goals, from 27 and 40 yards, and the coverage team recovered a muffed punt deep in Nebraska territory.
F Brady Hoke answered many of the questions about his team's failure the same way: "I have to do a better job coaching them." He preaches accountability, and he acknowledged that the buck stops with him when his team struggles as badly as it has the last few weeks, especially on offense. Rushing backwards (-48 yards against MSU, -21 against Nebraska) is a sign that something simply isn't working, and they haven't been able to figure out why. It seemed the only time the Wolverines went against their tendencies on offense was on the touchdown drive to open the second half.
Nebraska is not a good football team. The Cornhuskers entered No. 85 in the nation in rush defense, having allowed 200 yards rushing to every team on the schedule except lousy Purdue. Michigan, though, proved it isn't very good this year either, and the Wolverines seem to be regressing.
There are three games left in which to try to salvage what's left of the season, but few positive signs that what's broken will be fixed.