Michigan Wolverines: Wolverines-Huskers-102712

LINCOLN, Neb. -- After Nebraska forced 10 three-and-outs and held Northwestern's offense in check last week, coach Bo Pelini made his defenders an offer.

It was an offer they could refuse. And they did. The Huskers turned down their coveted blackshirts.

"They didn't want them," Pelini said. "They didn't think they'd earned them yet. It shows the character of our kids and the type of standards that they have. They said they hadn't earned them, and [that] we'll revisit it after the Michigan game.

"I think they earned them."

Nebraska's defenders donned the blackshirts in a joyous locker room late Saturday night following a 23-9 win against Michigan. The Huskers earned them by keeping Michigan in check before Denard Robinson left the game with a right elbow injury, and they earned them by slamming the door on backup signal caller Russell Bellomy in the second half. Nebraska held Michigan to just 44 yards after Robinson's injury.

It received big performances from linebacker Sean Fisher (7 tackles, 2 TFLs), linebacker David Santos (10 tackles, 1 TFL), nickel back Ciante Evans (2 TFLs, 1 sack), safety Daimion Stafford (interception, tackle for loss), safety P.J. Smith (53-yard interception return) and many others.

The blackshirts, while meaningful, aren't Nebraska's garb of choice this fall. Five weeks from Saturday, they want to be donning Big Ten championship T-shirts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Big Ten is a weak league that actually seemed to get weaker in Week 9, but some team is going to wear those shirts in Indiana. Some coach is going to hoist the championship trophy. Some group of players will celebrate on the field with roses in their mouths.

Why not Nebraska? Three weeks after getting pounded by Ohio State, the Huskers (6-2, 3-1) have steadied themselves and regained control in the Legends Division.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's David Santos
AP Photo/Nati HarnikDavid Santos and the Nebraska defense earned its blackshirts against Michigan.
"With the Big Ten standings, [Saturday's game] was kind of a must-have," Fisher said. "Not that it wasn't still possible to get to the Big Ten championship, but it was out of our control if we lost.

"We want to control our own future, and winning tonight took us one step closer to that."

After getting pummeled in Columbus, Pelini challenged his team to win out. A cross-division loss, as painful as it was, wouldn't hurt if Nebraska ran the table in the Legends Division. Following an off week, the Huskers rallied from 12 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Northwestern by a point last Saturday.

They never truly lost control against Michigan, keeping the Wolverines out of the end zone and capitalizing against Bellomy, a freshman who misfired on his first 11 pass attempts and had three interceptions. Pelini made a few defensive calls he didn't expect with Robinson out of the game, but Nebraska didn't change much schematically. It loaded up at the line and made Bellomy make throws he couldn't deliver.

"Obviously, you notice," Fisher said of Robinson's absence. "He's such a threat. I hope he's OK, I don't know what happened, and obviously, you don't want to see anybody get injured. But we weren't upset about it."

Robinson aggravated a nerve in his throwing elbow that he initially hurt Oct. 13 against Illinois. He only missed about a quarter against the Illini but didn't return Saturday, as he had trouble gripping the ball.

Coach Brady Hoke is optimistic the senior will return soon, possibly next week against Minnesota, and Michigan's hopes to challenge Nebraska in the division could hinge on it.

The Robinson injury was among several key developments in the Big Ten, a league no eligible team seems to want to win.

Wisconsin lost starting quarterback Joel Stave early in the third quarter of Saturday's overtime loss to Michigan State. Stave reportedly has a broken collarbone, which would cost him his season. A Badgers team that had regained its mojo after early-season struggles, now has a murky future on offense, as backup Danny O'Brien struggled mightily against Michigan State. Who could challenge the Badgers in the Leaders? How about Indiana, a team that has been in every game this season and finally got over the hump Saturday at Illinois.

Iowa has tumbled out of the race after consecutive blowout losses, while Northwestern, like Nebraska, has new life after a strong performance. Michigan State is in position to shape the race after the win in Madison, but with three league losses already, Mark Dantonio's squad must win out and get a lot of help to return to Indy.

Ohio State separated itself as the Big Ten's best team Saturday, but the Buckeyes won't be going to Indy because of NCAA sanctions. Neither will Penn State, a good team, but one that didn't measure up against Urban Meyer's squad.

The Big Ten has become the league of second chances. Michigan might get one. The Huskers certainly have theirs, and they don't intend to squander it.

"This is a big step for us," Pelini said. "I told the team, when you're winning, as the season goes on, the stakes get higher and higher every week."

Huskers players have embraced the urgency of the league race as they chase their first conference title since 1999. Claiming the tiebreakers against both Michigan and Northwestern could loom large in the coming weeks.

"In the end, it may be a big deal, but we have to make sure we take care of us the rest of the way, or none of that's going to matter," tight end Ben Cotton said. "We know we've got to stay in control."

To do so, Nebraska must win next week in East Lansing, where Michigan State already has lost three times, but returns with some confidence. Control has been fleeting in this league.

Don't tell Pelini about being in the driver's seat for Indianapolis.

"I don't buy into all that crap," he said.

His players didn't buy into the blackshirt offer, either. And in a few weeks, the Huskers might have the look of a champion.

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Three weeks after getting blown out at Ohio State, Nebraska has rallied to take control of the Legends division. The Huskers beat a Michigan team playing without star quarterback Denard Robinson in the second half, receiving big performances from their defense and enough offense from Taylor Martinez and Co.

Let's take a quick look at Nebraska's 23-9 win at Memorial Stadium.

It was over when: We didn't know it at the time, but Michigan had very little chance to win after Robinson aggravated a right elbow injury late in the second quarter. He did not return and backup Russell Bellomy misfired on his first 11 pass attempts and threw three interceptions. Nebraska officially put it away when Ameer Abdullah scored from 12 yards out on a nice cutback run to put the Huskers up two touchdowns with 10:19 to play.

Gameball goes to: Nebraska running back Abdullah. While several defenders stepped up for the Huskers, Abdullah provided the boost Nebraska needed on offense as it played without star senior Rex Burkhead (knee). Abdullah showed tremendous quickness and vision, racking up 101 rush yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

Stat of the game: Michigan failed to score a touchdown for the second consecutive game. The Wolverines last reached the end zone on a Thomas Rawls run with 6:01 left in their 45-0 win against Illinois on Oct. 13.

What Michigan learned: As good as the Wolverines are on defense, they can't win without Robinson, at least not now. Robinson accounts for too much of the offense and too much of the game plan. Bellomy was put in a tough spot but looked completely overmatched against an aggressive Nebraska defense. If Robinson is out for an extended period, Michigan will have a tough time remaining in the division race.

What Nebraska learned: The Blackshirts are starting to show up against spread offenses. After keeping Northwestern at bay, Nebraska's defense held Michigan in check, even before Robinson's injury. The Huskers still make too many mistakes, but they seemed to have turned a corner since the Ohio State debacle, and Martinez has played well the past two games. The Big Ten is up for grabs, and Nebraska might be right there to take it.

What it means: Nebraska and Michigan are tied atop the Legends division at 3-1, but the Huskers hold the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker. Bo Pelini's team can take a huge step toward locking up the division next week as it visits Michigan State, which has dropped three games at home this season. Michigan, meanwhile, must hope Nebraska falters at least once in order to get to Indianapolis.

Michigan DE Clark out with injury

October, 27, 2012
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Michigan sophomore defensive end Frank Clark will miss Saturday’s game against Nebraska with an ankle injury.

ESPN reporter Joe Schad initially reported Clark’s absence, which was then confirmed by Michigan’s dress list.

Clark has shared time with Brennen Beyer and Mario Ojemudia at Michigan’s rush end spot. He had 11 tackles this season, including three tackles for loss and three pass breakups.

It's game day at Memorial Stadium

October, 27, 2012
LINCOLN, Neb. -- The Sea of Red will be rocking tonight as Nebraska hosts No. 22 Michigan for the first time in 101 years.

A huge Legends Division matchup is on tap as Michigan (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) aims to preserve its perfect mark in Big Ten play and take a big step toward Indianapolis, while Nebraska (5-2, 2-1) can put itself in the driver's seat -- because of head-to-head tiebreakers -- with a victory. Every other Legends Division team has at least two losses in league play, so it's quite possible we see tonight's winner take on Wisconsin on Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.

Nebraska has won 10 consecutive home night games, including historic comebacks both Sept. 29 against Wisconsin and last year against Ohio State (largest in team history). The Huskers are 36-5 under the lights at Memorial Stadium, which will be packed and very, very loud. I haven't been here since the East stadium expansion really got rolling, and it's going to make an already electric venue even better.

Michigan dominated Nebraska last year in Ann Arbor, as Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint had their way with the Huskers' defense. Nebraska defended the spread decently last week against Northwestern, although Northwestern had a head-scratching game plan that played right into what the Huskers wanted. Bo Pelini's team knows exactly what's coming their way tonight -- lots of Robinson on the ground. An interesting subplot will be whether or not Toussaint, a major disappointment this season, can finally get going. If Nebraska can contain the run game and force Robinson to throw the ball, it will have chances to record interceptions.

Nebraska's offense, meanwhile, will be the most explosive Michigan has seen since the season opener against Alabama. The Huskers are expected to be without senior running back Rex Burkhead, who aggravated his knee injury for the second time in three games last week at Northwestern. They should be more than fine with Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross carrying the rock, but they'll need quarterback Taylor Martinez to make plays in a place where he typically steps up.

Michigan's defense has been exceptional in Big Ten play, as linebacker Jake Ryan leads the unit. The secondary has held up decently without starting cornerback Blake Countess, but Nebraska's receiving corps, which played very well last week, will test the back four.

Much more to come from Memorial Stadium throughout the night. I'll be tweeting throughout the game and back with more coverage immediately afterward.

Video: Michigan-Nebraska pregame

October, 27, 2012

Adam Rittenberg and Michael Rothstein break down the big Legends Division showdown between No. 22 Michigan and Nebraska.


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