Fast Takes after Huskers narrowly fail against Michigan

(Photo: Steven Branscombe, Getty)

Nebraska fought, and fought.

The Huskers have come back once, then twice, and yet they’re not going to be happy to come close again. While make no mistake, Scott Frost was proud of his team. He said it’s a real tight-knit team that he has, a team that he likes to coach. It was a team that looked on the verge of securing a possible decisive victory.

It was a wild game. Nebraska’s offense didn’t work for a half, then was machine-like for much of the second half until final practice. NU’s defense had a hold on her early on but couldn’t hold her back late. Damion Daniels said the Huskers weren’t gassed, although the defense was there a lot at the end. In the end, it boiled down to revenue, and I’m guessing some debate as to whether forward progression was stopped for Adrian Martinez prior to that revenue.

“I’m not going to get up here and apologize…” said the QB Husker. He stood up straight when he fumbled, he believed, but also added that the ball couldn’t come off. “I feel a lot of responsibility.”

The Nebraska football team is making progress. This is obvious. And yet, a 32-29 loss to No.9 Michigan drops a Husker team that can fight many top 20 teams at a 3-4 record. At one point, you would think the fight would get its big payoff. Not that night.

“It’s the biggest trust I’ve ever put in these guys and a team I’ve coached here,” said Frost, reiterating on several occasions how proud he was of his team. “As bad as I want it to work for our coaching staff, I want it to work for the players and this state.”

He thought that was the night this was going to happen, he added. He said there was a difference this time around. The guys expected to win, not to be let down by a mistake. This is what adds to the pain, surely. So close. Yet so close.

A few quick catches.

SECOND PART

– After the first 30 minutes of scuffling, the Nebraska offense found its rhythm to get things done and blow up the crowd again – then it suddenly took off like a jet. Martinez’s scrambling was a big reason he found 20 yards on a third and 10 to keep the original halftime drive alive. This room was an electric shock, it seemed.

A game later, the Huskers had a smart setup that allowed Austin Allen to break free after half a time and run on his own for a 46-yard touchdown. Jim Harbaugh was checked. he thought the Huskers had illegal training. Maybe he was right, but the Huskers probably felt indebted by this point as well.

– The Huskers gained momentum, losing just 13-7 after Allen’s score, but didn’t embrace it as fully as they could have. After a defensive save, the Huskers moved him, but Jaquez Yant went wrong on a second play and hit Martinez, then Rahmir Johnson got crammed on a third and a 1. Things almost worked out when the Michigan then dropped a punt and there was a frenzied stampede. Officials called it a “joint possession”, so Michigan received the ball on their own.

The big special teams play the Huskers were looking for and almost had, but didn’t. Or at least only shared custody, which was worthless.

– The possession that followed was Michigan’s best of the night at the time. They made the action game work and Cade McNamara was doing things with his arm. By the end of the run, he was 19 of 30 for 225 yards, which is something since he had only pitched 83 times in five games all season. But ultimately he would make a mistake, wouldn’t he? Yeah.

– The Huskers turned the game the other way in three minutes. Nebraska’s mistaken appeal to Rahmir Johnson for a 43-yard touchdown was the ultimate play. Credit Adrian Martinez for hooking and taking a massive hit while delivering him on the money. And Rahmir? Who saw him being that guy in August. He played himself a whale of a game in many categories. He finished with 105 receiving yards and 67 rushing yards.

– Then McNamara made the mistake. The Huskers placed him in third and -10. This is where they wanted to make hay, and they did when Deontai Williams played center and read a pass from the moment she left his hand. He returned it to 13. The joint was hopping. Even more of a play later when Frost dug deeper into his bag and slid Levi Falck into the apartment for an easy throw and catch and touch a stake later.

Yeah, a whole Light Show followed.

– Suddenly, the offenses were in control. Unfortunately for Nebraska, the Wolverines had quite a backlash. They took 75 yards on 10 games to take a 26-22 lead. The killer was a third and -8 in the first minute of the fourth quarter. McNamara found his tight end for an easy 14-yard gain. Then Michigan began to descend en route to the lead after playing from behind for the first time this season.

– After this touchdown from Michigan to bring the score to 26-22, the Wolverines had played 68 games against 44 for Nebraska. You were wondering if this might eventually catch up with NU’s defense. And yet, it looked like it might have been Huskers’ night when Oliver Martin caught a pass that almost came in for a 30-yard gain to kick off the next practice. Rahmir Johnson, who has become a real player, pulled off a 24-yard run. Adrian made an excellent draw in a third TD. Up to seven minutes to go.

– Alas, the Huskers couldn’t get that last save as Michigan pulled off two big plays to go straight back to the red zone. Nebraska’s position to follow was admirable because the Blackshirts seemed to run out of gas, and that kept the game tied. But you were all worried about that rollover on the next ride, I guess. It happened when Martinez was almost on his feet, the game almost dead, but it wasn’t reigning and the ball came out and all of a sudden the Wolverines had the deciding turnover.

I still thought the Huskers could pull the thing off after Martinez hit Samori Toure in midfield in the first game. But the next four pieces had no rhythm. The fourth pass was a deep shot against a zero blitz – to no avail. A flag came out but it was after the game and that’s it.

Memorial Stadium, quite the noise box, hastily quieted down. Another almost. Another chance to bring down a wall. No shame in the effort and desire, but as Nick Henrich put it quite simply: Losing these games like this sucks.

FIRST HALF

–Michigan’s defensive speed ended a play that looked promising for the Huskers, after Nebraska fooled the Wolverines fairly well on a well-executed screen pass to Rahmir Johnson on his first play to gain 43 yards.

But Nebraska would gain just 90 extra yards the rest of the half. The Huskers chewed 24 of them in a fourth conversion and 6 from Adrian Martinez to Omar Manning. I enjoyed the aggressive posture there, so I’m not going to hit Scott Frost for attempting the fourth and 2 on the Wolverine 3 a few games later. My feeling is that this is the call your team wants you to make as a coach, especially when you have a defense that has played as well as Nebraska with full ground to defend if you fail.

That said, the Huskers couldn’t run it with Martinez in midfield or away on back-to-back games. Michigan looked faster than any defense Nebraska saw in the fourth down play, stretching the QB to the limit. I thought Martinez might have a shot for Randall Cunningham to make his way to the end zone on the second down, but it would have been a highlight to score. The easy answer after was to say that Nebraska should have taken the 3, but personally I wasn’t mad at them before, so I won’t be after.

– Wolverine’s defense trusted their D-line and supporters to subdue the night, and didn’t have to crawl their defensive backs. The strategy was solid like the Huskers and ran it for 39 yards on 17 carries, an average of 2.3 per catch-all.

The Nebraska offensive actually started with a certain pace. A killer flag came on second possession when Cameron Jurgens was called up for a cut block that won a nine-yard run that would have had him second and Michigan’s 1 42. Instead, first and -20 and a possible punt.

– I hate to bring officials to argue, but they must be better than this crew. They would end up getting both sides one way or another, but some of their flags or misfires proved particularly costly for Nebraska in the second quarter.

Guess me this: Why does the head coach on one side have to be at the 5-yard line, yelling at the officials to consider a close touchdown call? It wasn’t until the last possible second that officials said, of course we’ll take a look. It turns out that Cade McNamara’s knee had fallen off before he put it back to the scoring rear. The review did it right, but the crew just missed a monster call for a second.

They most certainly missed one later in the half on a passing interference called JoJo Domann, who passed the ball from 15 to 2 in the dying seconds of the first half. With the clock as it stood, it may have been a four-point decision, with the Wolverines hitting it in a game later to bring the score to 13-0 with nine seconds left.

– Damion Daniels played his ass. He was blowing things up even while holding on. Cam Taylor-Britt was also dynamic on some head-to-head games, smashing two deep balls.

– Frost said this game was going to be about who could run it, so that explains a lot of the problems with NU. Nebraska was passed 224-133 in the first half, with the Wolverines covering 76 yards of territory in that final half-time practice.

It wasn’t the best Blackshirts job before the missed call. It was crashing death on the two minute drive and then Blake Corum ripped a run down a giant alley to the red zone on a third and 10 when NU had a chance to leave the field.

– William Przystup kicked him very well his first two times, including one that the Huskers probably should have pinned at 1 or 2. Taylor-Britt and Phalen Sanford were unable to lock him up, however. It took a tough rebound, but there was probably a play to be made there. I can’t ask your bettor more than this one.

– What is it about big ten big ten shows where a guy takes a pass while he’s on his back in those prime-time games? The state of Ohio did it a few years ago, and Michigan had it on a Saturday. It was not a good ball from Adrian Martinez, who was regularly harassed and had no accompanying running game. The latter was more bewildering than the “puzzling signals” officials were bothered with and pointed out to the Huskers on another of their bizarre calls.


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