Michigan's Biggest Plays Expose Nebraska's Biggest Struggles
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Michigan’s Biggest Plays Expose Nebraska’s Biggest Struggles

September 23, 2018

Based on the way Saturday’s loss at Michigan went, we decided to punt on selecting a Play of the Game. It was hard to pick out any one play by the Wolverines that truly changed the game, and the Huskers certainly didn’t have anything to get excited about in a 46-point loss.

If there was one play I might have highlighted, it was the Huskers' only touchdown, a 3-yard run by former walk-on Wyatt Mazour early in the fourth quarter. The 5-foot-9 Mazour was a prolific dual-threat quarterback for Boone Central who showcased his playmaking ability during the last two spring games for Nebraska. However, injuries have held him back through his career and until Saturday, his only playing time had been on special teams.

With the game over at halftime, Scott Frost used the fourth quarter to get some reserves on the field, Mazour included, and the junior from Albion made the most of his opportunities. He carried the ball five times for 18 yards and caught one pass for 21 yards. Nebraska’s other three backs totaled 11 yards on 17 touches. Few things get Nebraska fans more excited than a walk-on success story, and Mazour is a kid who has put in a lot of work and overcome a lot to get to where he is today.

“It’s tough to be individually happy with the team’s outcome in the game, coming in and leaving with a loss,” Mazour said. “But it was fun to be out there, just trying my hardest and trying to get this thing turned around.”

Unfortunately, this is where the good vibes end, because we need to take a look at what the heck happened up in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

Things actually got off to a solid start as freshman Adrian Martinez jogged out there to lead the offense after missing Nebraska’s game against Troy with a knee injury. After a couple of modest gains, Martinez found senior wideout Stanley Morgan Jr. for a 32-yard gain on third-and-3, crossing midfield and moving into Michigan territory.

On the next play, Nebraska lined up with trips to the right including sophomore slot receiver JD Spielman to the inside, Spielman ran a simple slant and it looked like Michigan lost him. Martinez saw him streaking up the middle of the field and tried to hit him, but defensive lineman Lawrence Marshall read the situation and threw his hands up in the air, getting a piece of the ball and tipping it to safety Josh Metellus for the interception.

Perhaps the deep safety might have had a chance to catch Spielman, but with his speed and the angle he was taking, the play likely would have gone for a touchdown had the ball gotten through; Martinez himself said as much. Instead, Michigan marched right down the field and scored a touchdown. That’s a 14-point swing that came down to a matter of inches. If Martinez throws the ball just a little bit higher, the Huskers score first for the first time this season. But it went wrong and things spiraled out of control from there.

After a three-and-out by the Nebraska offense followed by a punt that included a kick-catch interference penalty on wide receiver Jaron Woodyard in his first action of the season, Nebraska got the ball on the Nebraska 44-yard line.

Then this happened.

Michigan lined up with a tight end to the left of the left tackle and pulled the left guard around to seal the edge. 

For some reason, Dedrick Young II and Mohamed Barry both flew to the inside and basically bump into each other as Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson hands off to running back Karan Higdon. Higdon ran off left tackle with the pulling guard washing Alex Davis out of the play. Safety Aaron Williams read the run and ran forward to make a play but got picked off by a wide receiver. Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle loses sight of the ball and instead follows the wideout who slants inside to block Williams, opening up the sideline for Higdon who outraces Bootle, Mohamed Barry and Antonio Reed to the end zone. 

Just like that, Nebraska was facing a two-score deficit, but the Wolverines weren’t even close to done.

After another Nebraska three-and-out, Michigan marched down the field once again as a 26-yard run set the Wolverines up at the 4-yard line. 

Nebraska left its base defense on the field with its safeties and a corner crowding the line of scrimmage against a seven-man line for Michigan. Luke Gifford stays wide instead of pinching in while Bootle once again mis-reads the play and gets caught inside, which means he basically fills the same gap as inside linebacker Will Honas. That leaves a whole wide enough for a truck — or at least Mike Riley’s Prius — to drive through and fullback Ben Mason caps off the drive with Michigan’s third touchdown of the first quarter.

But wait, we’re not done yet. The Wolverines put up two more touchdowns, a field goal and a safety int he second quarter to take a 39-0 lead into halftime. 

Star wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones put an exclamation point on the game for the Wolverines early in the third quarter. After yet another three-and-out by the Nebraska offense to get the second half started, Caleb Lightbourn dropped back to punt from just outside his own end zone and booted it to the Michigan 40.

Woodyard had a lane to the returner, but there wasn’t quite enough hang time on the punt to give the speedy wideout time to get there. Peoples-Jones caught it just outside the hashmarks and immediately reversed field, running away from Woodyard. Freshman linebacker Caleb Tannor tried to catch him and almost did, but a Wolverine inserted himself between the two and threw a block to take Tannor out of the play.

Peoples-Jones out-ran a diving tackle attempt by freshman corner Cam Taylor then Lightbourn got blocked as Peoples-Jones cut it back towards the middle of the field. Gifford is there at the 20-yard line but Peoples-Jones spins right by him then runs past a diving tackle attempt by Gifford. Peoples-Jones gets one more block then simply out-races safety Tre Neal back to the pylon on the side of the field where the return started for a touchdown that put the Wolverines up 46-0.

The play was Nebraska’s second punt return touchdown allowed in as many games, and the Huskers also had four penalties on special teams. That phase of the game continues to be a significant problem for the team.

I’ll call it good there. To summarize things, Michigan entered the day with a significant edge in talent so the Huskers had to win with execution. They proceeded to blow assignment after assignment, misdiagnose plays and fail to finish off tackles, and thus the score was what it was.

“We came in with a good game plan, we just didn’t execute,” Mazour said. “Michigan, they played a hell of a game today. We’re going to continue to work on the little things and try to get this thing turned around.”

Michigan exposed Nebraska and showed just how far the Huskers have to go in every phase of the game.

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