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Late turnover, clutch field goals give Michigan impressive 32-29 win over Nebraska

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It was a big win in a hostile environment

NCAA Football: Michigan at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines advanced to 6-0 in a chaotic 32-29 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It was a much different Wolverines offense that took the field in Lincoln today as Cade McNamara threw for a career-high 255 yards on a career-high 38 attempts. The ground game continued to roll too with 204 yards and 3 touchdowns.

On the defensive side of the ball, the second half was a bit of a collapse. But the Wolverines stepped up in the game's most important moments to help seal yet another win for the program in 2021. Not only was it a win, but it was one on the road against a good opponent, something that has been hard to come by in the Jim Harbaugh era.

Memorial Stadium was loud early in this game and the Huskers fed off that momentum. After a false start put Michigan behind the sticks on their first drive, they went three-and-out giving Nebraska the ball.

The first play for Scott Frost and the Cornhuskers was a screen that went 43 yards and put the Cornhuskers in plus territory. On 4th & 6 and just outside of field goal range, Frost went for it. Blown coverage by Daxton Hill allowed a first down into the redzone. A few plays later and for the second time on the drive, Nebraska went for it on 4th & 2 inside the 5-yard line and Adrian Martinez was stuffed on the outside by Brad Hawkins to give the Wolverines the ball back.

After trading possessions, Michigan’s offense started cooking. Cade McNamara moved the sticks finding Luke Schoonmaker for a 24-yard gain on 3rd & 10. Throwing the ball was a big part of the offense in the first quarter as Josh Gattis elected to drop back and pass 10 times compared to just 6 runs. McNamara missed an endzone shot to Daylen Baldwin that could have been a touchdown. Instead, it was swatted away on an underthrown ball. Through the first, the game was locked at zero as Nebraska took over.

Nebraska’s offense continued to not do much and struggled to run the ball on the Wolverines’ defense. Then, Hill made a spectacular play swatting away a ball and then picking it off before it hit the ground. The offense took over on the Nebraska 35-yard line. They pushed the ball into field goal range, and Jake Moody gave us the first score of the game with a 35-yarder.

Like they have so many times this season, the Michigan defense forced a three-and-out. McNamara and the offense started their drive on their own 10-yard line. A healthy mix of offense moved the ball to around midfield until McNamara launched one deep to Mike Sainristil for 48-yards inside the 5-yard line. Hassan Haskins punched it in with a 1-yard touchdown run, but McNamara tripped and his knee was down prior to handing the ball off. The Wolverines settled for a field goal on an 11-play, 87-yard drive as Moody kicked through a 21-yarder to grow the lead to 6-0.

On the first play of the ensuing Cornhusker drive, Mazi Smith came in and trucked Martinez from behind causing an incompletion. It was one of two big sacks on the drive as David Ojabo nearly stripped Martinez a few plays later on 3rd & 10 forcing a punt.

Michigan got the ball with 1:37 seconds to go in the half. The Wolverines successfully moved the ball down the field through the air with plenty of dump-off passes to running backs and tight ends. Then, Blake Corum broke free on an unexpected 24-yard run with 35 seconds left moving the maize and blue into the redzone. A questionable pass-interference against Nebraska put the Wolverines inside the 5. And Haskins capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run as Harbaugh and company went into the half with a 13-0 lead.

At the half, Michigan outgained Nebraska 224-133. Mike Macdonald’s defense continued to improve with a first-half takeaway, stopping Nebraska on third down (they were 1-6 on third in the first half), and just 39 rushing yards on 17 attempts. The Cornhuskers are known for their big plays and the Michigan defense allowed very few in the first half.

That changed in half number two. Nebraska started with the ball and thus began an awful half for the Michigan defense. They allowed consecutive chunk plays as Martinez escaped the pocket and ran for 20 yards on 3rd & 11. The next play, a play-action pop pass left tight end Austin Allen wide open for a 46-yard touchdown. Nebraska punched Michigan in the mouth to open the second half and got on the board, 13-7.

The last thing Michigan needed was a three-and-out but the offense did just that giving the ball back to the Cornhuskers, rejuvenated a packed road stadium. Luckily, Michigan’s defense bailed out the offense stuffing consecutive runs on second and third down. A booming punt from the Huskers was muffed by A.J. Henning, but Michigan got lucky as the refs called it joint possession and gave Michigan the ball.

Needing a response, the Wolverines went 10-plays for 91-yards including a 35-yard pass to the redzone to Daylen Baldwin on a well-executed fake screen play. Baldwin has quietly been improving every single week. He finished this one with 6 receptions for 64 yards but had his fair share of drops too. The next play, Haskins rumbled and tumbled into the endzone for his second score of the game. Along with those two scores, Haskins tallied 123 yards on 23 carries on the day. Harbaugh elected to go for two but failed, giving the Wolverines a 19-7 lead.

Nebraska seemed to figure out this Michigan defense at the halftime break. Lots of triple-option calls and play-actions to counter led to several big plays. Samori Toure had a 16-yard run on a pitch from Martinez. Two plays later, Martinez found Rahmir Johnson on a touch pass across the field for a 41-yard score. Michigan still led 19-14 after a 5-play, 75-yard drive.

To make matters worse, McNamara misread the Nebraska defense and tossed an interception following three consecutive passes. Nebraska took over and only needed one play to take the lead. Martinez lobbed a pass to Levi Falck in the flat who ran it 13-yards to the house.

All of a sudden the Wolverines trailed 22-19 after a successful two-point conversion attempt. For the first time this season, Michigan was losing and needed to steal some momentum on the road heading into the fourth quarter.

A guy who had been absent for most of the game was Blake Corum who had just eight touches in the first three quarters. This was a guy who was once in the Heisman conversation who was uninvolved in the offense for a majority of this game. It wasn’t just that Corum wasn’t getting touches, it almost felt like Michigan had abandoned the running game.

For the second time in the game, McNamara overthrew Baldwin for what would have been a wide-open touchdown. Although, McNamara did find Erick All underneath on 3rd & 8 for a first down to keep the chains moving. Then, right on cue, Corum got loose on the outside for a 29-yard touchdown run. A cool, collective 10-play, 75-yard drive from McNamara and the offense after the pick put the Wolverines back in the lead, 26-22 with 11:21 remaining in the fourth.

Nebraska had a different pace in the second half. Martinez was getting the ball out of his hands much quicker, they were playing up-tempo, and they continued to confuse the heck out of the Michigan linebackers. In just 3:30 minutes, the Cornhuskers went 75-yards on 8-plays as Martinez finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. Nebraska was back up by 3 points, 29-26.

All of a sudden, Michigan wanted to move the ball on the ground. Haskins hurdled a guy in route to a 50-yard run that nearly put Michigan in the redzone.

A few plays later on 3rd & 9, the Wolverines ran the same play they continued to run: A block-release from All underneath that picked up a massive first down into scoring range. A false start pushed the Wolverines to 4th & 12 and Moody trotted out for a shot to tie it with about three minutes remaining. The kick was good from 31 to knot this one at 29.

The Michigan defense had yet to stop Nebraska in the second half. Martinez was 10-of-11 for 165 yards and 4 touchdowns in the second frame heading into this drive. On a monumental 3rd & 1, a designed quarterback run for Martinez went haywire as he was fighting for yards and Brad Hawkins stripped the ball away and recovered. With under two minutes left, Michigan had possession in the redzone.

It was three straight runs for Michigan on the drive forcing Nebraska to use all three of their timeouts. Moody once again went out with the game on his foot with 1:28 left in the ballgame. With absolute ice in his veins for the second time, Moody kicked it through for a 39-yard field goal giving Michigan the 32-29 lead.

The Huskers started off the next drive hot with a Martinez to Toure connection for 25-yards to midfield. Consecutive incompletions made it 3rd & 10 and Nebraska went with a screen pass that was blown up by Gemon Green. On 4th down, Hill had great coverage and the ball fell incomplete. Michigan walked away from a hostile environment with a victory, 32-29.

Nebraska accounted for 297 second-half yards, mirroring Rutgers' second-half performance from a couple of weeks back. It’s a trend that Macdonald and this defense are going to have to resolve to stay undefeated down the stretch here. Still, in both instances, the defense did just enough to squeak out a victory.

Michigan has a bye week this coming Saturday but comes back on Oct. 23 to face the 2-3 Northwestern Wildcats in the Big House. Kickoff for the game has yet to be announced.