It may be hard to believe, but this was my first ever road trip with the Michigan Football team. As a season ticket holder for the last 13 years, I rarely miss a home game, but I’ve never been to a game on the road. I have of course heard horror stories of trips to some of the other Big 10 locations, but let me be the first to say that the Nebraska fans have to be the nicest fans anywhere. From the plane trip out, to interactions in the airport, in restaurants, walking to the stadium and even sitting in the seats, Nebraska fans were polite, helpful, complimentary and friendly in just about every way imaginable. They offered directions, suggestions for places to eat, and insight into their stadium and team all the while doing so with a welcoming grace.
The Nebraska stadium houses about 81,000 seats, but is currently undergoing expansion to get them to around 87,000. There was a lot of red in the stands with just a few sporadic friendly blue colors to be seen. I had a nice conversation with the guy across the aisle from me. They have had 321 consecutive sellouts at their stadium, but he was asking about how big The Big House is and when I explained that it was 109,000 and that we had 113,000 the week before he was amazed. I was able to counter their sellout streak with our streak of consecutive games over 100,000. I did ask a few of the fans who stopped down to introduce themselves if they had ever been to the big house. I’m not sure if they were just being nice, but I specificially asked if they had a positive reception at the big house. They said yes, but I find it hard to believe that they were welcomed as nicely as I was. It gives me a new perspective, and I hope to apply it here in the future.
Now, on to the game. For the first two quarters of the game, I thought that Nebraska held the advantage, but I really felt like the game was close. The Michigan defense was in bend but try not to break mode, while the offense was again trying to find a way to get the struggling running game going. Nothing was clicking very well, as once again the best running plays were either Denard improvising, or Jeremy Gallon running the sweep. Once Denard went down with the injury, there just wasn’t much that happened that could be considered positive. Several short possessions by the offense really wore out the defense and the results were points for Nebraska.
I normally am not critical of Michigan players in any way, but we are going to need some guys to step up based on their performances in this game. First of all, I think we need to hope that Denard will be able to play. He is a solid 75% of our offense and it was really obvious that without him in the game, we weren’t able to move the football. The offensive line really needs to step up and block better opening holes in the running game and pass protecting in the passing game. Fitz Toussaint needs to find a way to accelerate through creases and if the line starts opening holes he needs to hit them. I still want to see if Thomas Rawls can become the bruising style of runner that I think we’re going to need.
On the defensive side of the ball, I really wonder if Jake Ryan wasn’t dinged up a bit. He didn’t play every down, and missed several tackles including at least 4 in the backfield that should have been tackles for loss. On the end we can’t afford for him to miss any tackles. When he does you can almost always count on a first down for the opposing offense. Thomas Gordon had maybe his worst game of the season. Taylor Martinez seemed to have his number as Gordon was looking in the backfield and got burned on at least 4 plays and a they missed a couple of more that could have been worse. I’m not sure if he was supposed to be handing the receiver off in the zone, but on at least a couple of occasions he handed him off to thin air. We can’t afford to have this happen, especially when we aren’t putting up a lot of points ourselves. Additionally, tackling overall was sub-par and will need to be cleaned up.
Special teams play was nothing spectacular. We continue to fair catch every punt, and I wish that we would just rush 10 since we know we’re going to fair catch anyways. We missed our first field goal of the season (I think) and the overall kicking game was just solid. We still haven’t managed to spring a big kickoff return, and I’m not sure why. I think Norfleet has one in him, it just hasn’t happened yet.
I’m somewhat dreading the Minnesota game, hoping Denard can play, or at the very least we can move the ball. The defense is going to have to be stout!.
Here are a few pictures from my trip to Lincoln.