Nebraska was close to earning a win Saturday night at home against No. 9 Michigan, but instead the Huskers are still looking for answers and Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines still have a perfect record.
Michigan stayed unbeaten with a 32-29 win, dropping Nebraska’s record to 3-4 and 1-3 in Big Ten play. You remember the highlight plays, like quarterback Adrian Martinez’s three touchdown passes to tight end Austin Allen, running back Rahmir Johnson and wideout Levi Falck. But what about the plays that may have flown under the radar? It’s hard to catch everything on the first viewing, so we’ve gathered five standout plays that may not have been flashy, but still got the job done.
Damion Daniels shows quickness, strength
Nebraska’s nose tackle continues to have a special season, and he had yet another strong performance Saturday night. Daniels was an important player in the game. Any time a defense knows it’s going to be playing against an offense that wants to be physical and run the ball, it’s on the defensive line to muddy things up in the trenches.
Daniels did that and more against Michigan. He finished with four tackles and one solo stop—let’s focus on that solo stop, shall we?
In the above play, Michigan comes out in 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). Nebraska counters with its base 3-4 look, which consists of three down linemen and four linebackers. Those four include two outside ‘backers in Garrett Nelson and JoJo Domann, though Domann is a hybrid linebacker/safety, so this could be called a 3-3-5, and two inside ‘backers in Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer.
Daniels looks to line up as the 2i-technique, which is the player on the inside shoulder of Michigan’s left guard, Trevor Keegan. The Wolverines try executing an outside zone run play to the boundary, or short side of the field, but Daniels beats Keegan, who tries to reach him for the block.
Daniels fends off Keegan with his right arm and snags running back Blake Corum with his left, whipping him down to the ground for the tackle. That’s really good from Daniels, who continues to show off his strength and quickness this season.
Ty Robinson earns his first sack
Robinson finally got a sack on Saturday night, and how he accomplished it was pretty impressive.
On the play above, Michigan comes out in an empty formation, with quarterback Cade McNamara the lone player in the backfield. Nebraska counters with its nickel package, putting two down linemen with two outside ‘backers to form a four-man look on the line of scrimmage. Robinson lines up at the 3-technique, which is on the outside shoulder of the left guard, Keegan again.
Nebraska runs a stunt with Robinson and outside ‘backer Pheldarius Payne. Robinson works to the outside while Payne takes a few hard steps up the field before planting his foot in the ground and looping inside. Michigan’s o-line doesn’t pass off Robinson well enough, and he snuck through to get to McNamara for a sack.
Robinson finished his night with four tackles, one sack, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry. Pretty good for the Arizona native.
A pretty option
One way to slow down aggressive edge rushers is to put them in conflict. One way to put them in conflict is to make them the read player on an option play, and that’s exactly what happened to Michigan’s David Ojabo on the play above.
Nebraska comes out in 11 personnel (one back, one tight end). Allen, the tight end, starts in the slot, but motions into the backfield along with Martinez, Johnson and wideout Samori Touré.
It’s unclear, but the split-zone run look to Johnson may have been a built-in fake and not a read. Right tackle Bryce Benhart leaves Ojabo unblocked, because he’s going to be read by Martinez, who’s going to run the option with Touré while Allen bluff blocks Ojabo to be the lead blocker. Ojabo decides to stay home on the play and not chase Touré, which tells Martinez to pitch. Benhart and Allen do an excellent job of executing their blocks and paving a clear path for a first down for Touré.
Strong run blocking from the o-line
We’re not going to sit here and tell you that Nebraska’s offensive line owned the Michigan defensive front, because it didn’t. But the Huskers’ o-line had good moments, and the play above was one of them.
Nebraska comes out in 11 personnel and runs a simple outside zone to the boundary. Johnson ends up rushing for 24 yards on the play due to the fact that his blockers shoved around the Wolverines.
Let’s start with Benhart at right tackle—he does well enough on Ojabo, who can’t make the play. Center Cam Jurgens and right guard Matt Sichterman do a nice job of doubling the 2i-technique (inside shoulder of the guard), Jess Speight, and taking him out of the play. Left guard Nouredin Nouili chips enough of Michigan’s Donovan Jeter (#95) which allows left tackle Turner Corcoran to reach Jeter for the block. Nouili climbs to the second level and blocks linebacker Josh Ross, leaving Johnson to run for a first down and more.
The fake rollout from Martinez also freezes Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson just enough so he couldn’t get to Johnson, too. It was just a well-executed play all around for the Huskers’ run game.
Cam Taylor-Britt covers a lot of ground to make stop
Taylor-Britt has had his ups and downs this season, and he’d probably agree that sometimes he tries to make the big, flashy play instead of something safe that will work. On Saturday, the Alabama native played his best game of the season.
Taylor-Britt finished with 11 tackles and three pass breakups, one of which saved a touchdown. But it was his tackle of Corum on a screen play in the third quarter that may have been his most impressive rep from the game.
In the play above, Michigan was faced with a third-and-3 from its own 32-yard line. The Wolverines dial up a screen, which was a good call because both Daniels and Nelson took the bait and rushed up the field, leaving Corum with room to operate.
Henrich did an excellent job of beating his block and turning Corum back into the middle of the field where his help was, and that’s when Taylor-Britt turned on the jets to make the tackle short of the first-down marker.
Taylor-Britt flew around on Saturday, and he showed what kind of ground he can cover. It was a great play from the fourth-year junior.