Saturday’s game at Michigan Stadium looked like Nebraska was stranded at the beach unable to move as high tide approached. The Michigan offensive line surged forward a few yards at a time and junior running back Blake Corum followed into the end zone. Nebraska couldn’t stop it. They backpedaled to prolong the inevitable until the waves finally crashed and swept the Huskers to sea.
Corum, the Heisman hopeful, ran for 162 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. His longest run spanned 12 yards. He followed a strong offensive line, finishing through each collision and sending Nebraska backwards. When emerging backup running back Donovan Edwards left the game after just two carries for 13 yards, C.J. Stokes stepped in and ran for 68 yards on eight carries. Reserve running backs Tavierre Dunlap and Isaiah Gash both came in the fourth quarter and tallied at least 12 yards.
No. 3 Michigan thoroughly beat Nebraska, 34-3. The Wolverines scored on six of their nine drives. Each scoring drive took six plays and at least 3:20 off the clock. A series of steady waves hitting the beach until it washed away all it touched.
“They’re a really good Big Ten offensive line,” junior edge Garrett Nelson said. “Like I said two weeks ago when we started this five-game stretch, we’re going to see some really good Big Ten offensive linemen and there was nothing surprising there, they were really good Big Ten offensive linemen. They were big guys and big athletes.”
Michigan ran for 264 yards and controlled the game with 27 first downs for 35 minutes, 32 seconds of possession. Quarterback JJ McCarthy did just enough, throwing 10 of 20 for 148 yards and two touchdowns, although one he got credit for that was fumbled into the end zone.
The Nebraska defense kept the big play from happening and shut down McCarthy’s attempts at kickstarting Michigan’s long-sought vertical passing game. Linebacker Luke Reimer moved into No. 20 on the Nebraska tackles list with 236 following 10 more on Saturday. Freshman Ernest Hausmann, who got effectively benched earlier in the season and filled in for injured team captain Nick Henrich, stepped up. The linebacker from Columbus set a new career high with 10 tackles, eight solo, including his first career sack in the third quarter. Hausmann dropped into coverage then collapsed on McCarthy in his rollout.
“That was a very cool experience,” Hausmann said. “A highly ranked team and they played a phenomenal game, they executed really well. We continued to fight.”
Nebraska’s offense continued to fight against the tide but hardly made headway. The Huskers managed just 146 total yards, 55 of them coming on the team’s only scoring drive in the second quarter. Outside of that and Nebraska’s opening drive that went for 34 yards, none of their seven other attempted drives managed more than 16 yards. That included three consecutive 3-and-outs in the first half.
Chubba Purdy led Nebraska’s sole scoring effort midway through the second quarter. The longest play on that drive was the roughing passer penalty called on Michigan’s Taylor Upshaw when Purdy’s pass to Travis Vokolek went behind the senior team captain. Purdy scrambled for 13 yards, Alante Brown extended a throw over the middle for 13 total yards, followed by a Purdy 7-yard run. Growing with confidence, Purdy dropped back on 3rd and 3 and took off for 8 yards. Except, he committed to sliding late, went down awkwardly and writhed in pain on the field. Interim head coach Mickey Joseph said afterwards Purdy had a high ankle sprain. Purdy watched the second half in a walking boot and on crutches.
Logan Smothers came in for a 3-yard run, dropped pass and fumbled snap. He jumped on the fumble to salvage the field goal.
“I feel like that’s just the kind of person I am,” Smothers said of coming in the game. “I try to be calm at all times, my demeanor’s always been that way. It’s just next-man-up mentality, you know.”
Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple got taken out on the sidelines during the kickoff return after Timmy Bleekrode’s 37-yard field goal. Whipple tried getting back to his feet initially but couldn’t. He watched Michigan kick a field goal while holding a play sheet and a staffer on each arm, one clinging to his left arm for support. Joseph said after the game that Whipple underwent x-rays and moved to the booth upstairs to call plays for the second half.
Nebraska scrapped to just 43 total yards in the second half with Whipple upstairs and Smothers at quarterback. Casey Thompson didn’t make the trip to Michigan at all, still dealing with nerve damage in the pinky finger of his throwing hand.
“I’m sure if I look at my phone Casey’s probably already texted me, called me and tell me he’s ready to play next week,” Joseph said after the game. “We’ll take it day by day with Casey. We won’t put Casey out there unless he can play at a high level.”
Next week, and the week after, is all Nebraska has. There’s Senior Day, the last home game of the season, against Wisconsin and the season finale at Iowa on Black Friday. Then Nebraska football changes. This team changes. Not one Husker on this year’s team was around the last time the team made a bowl game in 2016. All of them only know losing seasons at Nebraska. And that doesn’t change this year.
But they still get two more games playing at Nebraska. One of only eight programs with 900 all-time wins and a team that shared a National Championship with the same Michigan program a quarter century earlier. For some, it’s a team. For others, it’s a state. Then, for a certain group of believers, it’s something else entirely.
“To be able to represent Nebraska,” Hausmann said. “This program just means a lot to me.”