Ann Arbor, Mich. - A collection of special teams miscues by Nebraska allowed No. 20 Michigan to control the ball, the clock and the second half in the No. 17 Huskers' 45-17 loss to the Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
With the loss, Nebraska slipped to 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten while dropping out of contention for the Legends Division title. Michigan improved to 9-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten, while helping in-state rival Michigan State clinch the Legends Division crown with a victory at Indiana.
Although the Huskers surrendered 45 points on the scoreboard, the Blackshirts were handcuffed by special teams and offensive turnovers throughout the second half.
After Michigan jumped to a 10-0 first-quarter lead in front of 113,718 fans at the Big House, Nebraska responded. NU sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez connected with senior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie on a 54-yard touchdown strike to cut the Wolverine margin to 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.
The Huskers tied the game at 10 early in the second quarter, thanks to the biggest defensive play of the game from senior defensive tackle Terrence Moore, who tipped a Denard Robinson pass into the air and then ran under it for an interception. Moore returned the ball to the Michigan 33. NU's offense was unable to move against a stingy Wolverine defense, but Brett Maher connected on a career-long 51-yard field goal to tie the game with 12:12 left in the half.
Michigan provided an answer of its own with a 12-play, 74-yard drive that consumed 6:07 on the clock and culminated with Robinson's 14-yard touchdown run with 6:05 left in the half.
The two teams went to the halftime locker room with the Wolverines up 17-10, but the Huskers were set to receive the second-half kickoff with a chance to even the score.
Nebraska's second-half special teams woes began immediately. Kenny Bell returned Matt Wile's kick 33 yards, but his fumble was recovered by Michigan's Courtney Avery. The Wolverines cashed in with a seven-play, 33-yard drive capped by Robinson's one-yard run to make it 24-10 with 11:31 left in the third quarter.
The Husker offense managed a first down on its first possession of the second half, but Michigan held on 3rd-and-6 to force a Maher punt. Maher mishandled a good snap, and had his first punt of the season blocked to set the Wolverines up with another short field at the 50.
Eight plays later, Fitzgerald Toussaint rumbled in from one yard out to give Michigan a 31-10 lead with 5:03 left in the third quarter.
The Wolverines forced another three-and-out, and Maher tried to make up for his mistake by booming a 69-yard punt to bury Michigan at its own 4. The Blackshirts forced a three-and-out of their own and Ameer Abdullah returned a short 33-yard Will Hagerup punt 11 yards to give Martinez and the NU offense the ball at the Michigan 31.
Seven plays later, Abdullah pulled the Huskers within two scores on his three-yard touchdown run to give Nebraska life at the end of the third quarter.
Trailing 31-17 entering the fourth quarter, the Blackshirts appeared to breathe more life into the Huskers by stopping the Wolverines' Robinson on 3rd-and-4 to set up a punt on 4th-and-7 at the Michigan 17.
NU's Wil Richards came free on a chance at a punt block attempt, but instead of blocking the punt was flagged for roughing the kicker. Instead of having the ball inside the Michigan 10 with a chance to pull within a score, Michigan had a fresh set of downs.
Robinson and the Wolverines took advantage by completing a 10-play, 86-yard march that covered 5:39. Robinson put the exclamation point on the Michigan victory by connecting with Martavious Odoms on a 38-yard touchdown pass at the back of the end zone against double coverage. The score put the Wolverines up 38-17 with 10:14 left.
Another miscue ensued, as Tim Marlowe returned the Wile kickoff 22 yards before fumbling. Michigan recovered at the NU 22.
The Blackshirts managed one more three-and-out to force a 42-yard field goal attempt that Brendan Gibbons missed wide right. But two plays later, Martinez fumbled while being sacked to give Michigan the ball back at the Husker 31.
On the next play from scrimmage, Toussaint uncorked a highlight-reel 31-yard touchdown run to seal the 45-17 win.
Toussaint finished the game with 138 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. His rushing total matched the Huskers' team rushing total, as Martinez managed 49 yards on 16 carries for the Huskers.
Rex Burkhead, Nebraska's leading rusher coming into the game, was held to just 36 yards and was held out of the end zone for the first time all season.
Robinson added 83 yards and two more rushing scores for the Wolverines on the ground, as Michigan amassed 238 rushing yards. He also threw for 180 yards and two more scores while completing 11-of-18 passes.
Nebraska's three fumbles and other miscues helped Michigan amass 80 total plays for the game, while producing 418 total offense yards and a time of possession advantage of 41:13-18:39. It was Nebraska's least time of possession since at least 1983.
The Huskers managed just 260 yards of total offense, as Martinez was held to 122 yards through the air while completing 9-of-23 passes. Nebraska ran just 54 plays.
Nebraska returns home to Memorial Stadium to close the regular season in the Heroes Game with Iowa on Friday, Nov. 25. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. on Senior Day at Nebraska (central) on ABC.
Final: #20 Michigan 45, #17 Nebraska 17
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011
Michigan Stadium (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
First Quarter (MICH, 10-7)
MICH - 8:17 - Jeremy Gallon 6 pass from Denard Robinson (Brendan Gibbons kick), 8 plays, 79 yards, 4:01, MICH 7-0
MICH - 2:03 - Gibbons 42 FG - 9 plays, 30 yards, 4:20, MICH 10-0
NEB - 1:17 - Brandon Kinnie 54 pass from Taylor Martinez (Brett Maher kick), 3 plays, 65 yards, 0:46, MICH 10-7
Second Quarter (MICH, 17-10)
NEB - 12:12 - Maher 51 FG - 4 plays, 1 yard, 1:29, Tied, 10-10
MICH - 6:05 - Robinson 14 run (Gibbons kick) - 12 plays, 74 yards, 6:07, MICH 17-10
Third Quarter (MICH, 31-17)
MICH - 11:23 - Robinson 1 run (Gibbons kick) - 7 plays, 33 yards, 3:29, MICH 24-10
MICH - 5:03 - Fitzgerald Toussaint 1 run (Gibbons kick) - 8 plays, 50 yards, 3:29, MICH 31-10
NEB - 0:53 - Ameer Abdullah 3 run (Maher kick) - 7 plays, 31 yards, 1:41, MICH 31-17
Fourth Quarter (MICH, 45-17)
MICH - 10:14 - Martavious Odoms 38 pass from Robinson (Gibbons kick) - 10 plays, 86 yards, 5:46, MICH 38-17
MICH - 7:33 - Toussaint 31 run (Gibbons kick) - 1 play, 31 yards, 0:08, MICH 45-17
Final: #20 Michigan 45, #17 Nebraska 17
Time of Game: 3:30
Game Start: 11:00 a.m. (central)