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Film Focus: Michigan defense vs Nebraska offense

Nebraska was one jump ball from passing for negative yards. It was that kind of day for the Michigan defense.

Nebraska v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

On Nebraska’s first drive, Adrian Martinez tossed a 32-yard jump ball off a scramble to Stanley Morgan to enter Michigan territory.

The Cornhuskers wouldn’t return to Michigan’s side of the field until the third quarter. Also, Martinez went 6-for-14 for -10 yard passing the rest of the way. Until the final drive, the Wolverine defense had only allowed 52 total yards.

It was that kind of day for Don Brown’s dudes.


Husker running back Greg Bell motions from the slot into the backfield and takes a zone read for four yards on first down. Head coach Scott Frost deploys five blockers for five defenders, choosing to option off Chase Winovich. Devin Gil has to respect the bubble screen action at the bottom of the screen, so Bell finds room inside.

Rashan Gary almost single-handedly blows up a speed option on the following snap. First, he bursts towards Martinez to force him to pitch, and then the back hesitates with Josh Metellus barreling into the running lane. That split-second of hesitation is all Gary needs to throw him for a loss.

Jordan Glasgow, filling in for Khaleke Hudson at Viper due to last week’s targeting, almost gets to Martinez unabated on a edge blitz. The tackle is more worried about Gary ripping inside — fair — leaving Glasgow untouched. Martinez’s jump ball is so under thrown that Brandon Watson and Tyree Kinnel are out of position. Morgan, a future NFL receiver, simply makes a play.

The Wolverines seize momentum right back on a Lawrence Marshall tip and a Metellus pick. This was covered in Inflection Point.

Glasgow is beat cleanly on the short post by JD Spielman, so the tip likely saved a touchdown.

Drive: Four plays, 33 yards, interception (Michigan scores to lead 7-0)


Scott Frost calls for another inside zone read to Greg Bell, who gets swallowed up by Marshall and Michael Dwumfour. Marshall holds the point of attack, while Dwumfour swim past a guard to finish off Bell.

Bell finds himself open with a head of steam in the flat, but Martinez places the ball well behind him for an incompletion. Three receivers run inside routes, drawing cover guys away from the flat. Also, this gets in the way of Josh Ross, who is working against the grain to stick with Bell.

Ross makes up the distance with Bell, which shows off his athleticism. After a few years of watching Mike McCray cover Saquon Barkley and other backs, Ross is an upgrade in speed.

Glasgow sacks Martinez for a 14-yard loss to end the drive. Don Brown completely befuddles the left tackle by making him choose between a slanting Winovich and the outside blitz. Without Bell running a route, nobody stands between Glasgow and Martinez.

Drive: Three plays, -13 yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 14-0)


Frost is simultaneously trying to give his quarterback easy throws, while also deploying tempo to kick-start his offense.

First, Morgan catches a hitch route for just two yards, as Martinez throws behind to throw his receiver off balance. Next, Martinez rolls out right and finds Bell on an out route, with Devin Bush tackling him immediately.

Gary hurried Martinez into that second-down throw. When Nebraska runs the same play to the opposite side, he gets all the way to the quarterback.

Carlo Kemp also disengages from his block pretty quickly. Between Kemp’s burgeoning explosiveness, Marshall’s timely plays and Bryan Mone’s immovability, the interior line is no longer the question mark they were in the offseason.

Drive: Three plays, -3 yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 20-0)


Bush looks just like former Wolverine linebacker David Harris on this play.

Pardon the video quality, but this is Harris erasing a screen against Notre Dame in 2006 (1:31)

Bush shares Harris’ knack for avoiding traffic to stop ball-carriers cold.

This sets up a 3rd-and-14, which Martinez converts for a first down with his feet. With the defense in man coverage, and three receivers to the left, Martinez sprints out the pocket to the right and beats Watson one-on-one at the sticks. Scrambles are going to succeed sometimes against man coverage like this.

Two different defenders beat blocks to down Nebraska’s Maurice Washington for short gains. On the first play, freshman Aidan Hutchinson tosses a guard to the side and fills the gap. Next, Ross drives through a perimeter block to get to Washington.

Martinez throws into the cheap seats to end the drive.

Drive: Six plays, 13 yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 23-0)


This drive, again, is all about the interior defensive line refusing to budge at the point of attack.

First, Martinez gives to Bell on an option where the read is on the tackles rather than the end. Since Marshall and Dwumfour are ready to rip past their blockers, Bell gets the ball, only to be met by Bush and Gil scraping to the edge.

After Metellus breaks up a short pass, Nebraska tries to throw again on 3rd-and-long. Winovich loops inside behind Dwumfour’s butt, muscling past two blocks to flush Martinez. Dwumfour used to try to make plays all by himself, but by staying in his lane, Martinez runs right into him for the sack.

Drive: Three plays, two yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 30-0)


This is the Winovich “eating hearts” drive.

Martinez ate two sacks on the drive. Not exactly a happy meal for the freshman.

Drive: Three plays, -20 yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 37-0)


Fast forward to the safety.

Frost, attempting somehow to deal with Don Brown’s aggressiveness, tries to set up a screen. Hutchinson impersonates Dikembe Mutombo to swat the pass back into Martinez’s face.

Not to take anything away from Hutchinson, but this shouldn’t be a safety. The penalty call is correct, but Martinez isn’t in the end zone. Plus — as all Detroiters know — doesn’t a catch require a “act common to the game” or a football move?

It’s looks like Martinez is fumbling with the ball as he attempts to bat it down, but he’s not making a football move while he’s mid-air.

Ah well, it gave us this safety dance.

Did somebody say safety dance?

Drive: Three plays, -10 yards, safety (Michigan leads at halftime 39-0)


  • The second half was all garbage time, so there’s only one thing to discuss: Hudson’s second targeting call in two weeks.

While last week’s had some justification, this week’s call was downright dubious.

Two of three things have to apply for a referee to even consider a hit targeting. The player has to lead with the crown of his helmet, and forcibly contact the head or neck area.

Hudson looks to be leading with his crown, but it goes squarely into the quarterback’s chest. Neither the head or neck snap back in any way, indicating not very forcible contact.

By rule, since only one of three conditions apply, it’s not a penalty.

While likely not needed against Northwestern’s anemic offense, the Viper is an important part of stopping spread rushing offenses like Maryland. As long as Hudson is back Oct. 6, this will just be an annoying factoid from the 2018 season.


You all watched. Michigan dominated.

I spent the extra time inserting Hutchinson into Men Without Hats.