The disappointment of a five loss season is a reality the Michigan football program hasn't had to experience much in the last 38 years. Heading into Wednesday night's Alamo Bowl match-up with Nebraska, avoiding the distinction of being the second such team since 1967 was of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, in a season that had more than its fair share of setbacks, the Wolverines suffered another one at the hands of the Cornhuskers.
The underdog Nebraska squad hit pay dirt first, scoring on their second possession of the game. The Michigan defense brought pressure up the middle and delivered a huge blow on quarterback Zach Taylor, but the junior signal caller was still able to get the ball away. Terrence Nunn reeled in the slant pass, slipped a tackle attempt by free safety Brandon Harrison, and then sprinted 54 yards to the house for the early 7-0 lead.
The Wolverines wasted little time countering with a big play of their own, though. Steve Breaston knifed through a sea of red jerseys on the ensuing kickoff for a 68-yard return to the Husker 32. Chad Henne then cashed in on that excellent field position when he stood in the face of a blitz to deliver a perfect tear-drop pass to Tyler Ecker who was coming open on a crossing pattern. The 13-yard pass play knotted the score at seven.
The Michigan defense did its part to help the Maize and Blue gain its first lead of the game when junior cornerback Leon Hall grabbed interceptions on each of the next two Nebraska possessions. The Wolverines squandered the California native's first pick, but they made good on his second. This time, Henne hooked up with Mike Massey on a slant in the end zone for a 16-yard score to go up 14-7.
Lloyd Carr's club seemingly had the momentum at that point, but Nebraska stemmed the tide by with a 70-yard touchdown drive to tie the score at 14 at the half. The Huskers then picked up right where they left off after the intermission, mounting another long march down the field.
Senior tailback Cory Ross' 49 yards on six attempts helped move the ball all of the way to the Michigan three yard line. That's when controversy entered the game for the first time. One of the officials erroneously ruled for a Husker touchdown when Nunn trapped a pass from Taylor on the turf in the end zone. The replay officials compounded that error when they refused to review the play. Their oversight forced a furious Lloyd Carr to call a timeout to prevent another play from being run so they could take another look. When they finally reviewed it, they determined that the ruling on the field was incorrect. Nebraska then had to settle for a field goal, putting them up 17-14 with 8:42 left in the third. But as was the case in the first half, the Wolverines were ready with a response. This time it would be even stronger.
On the Maize and Blue's next possession, Henne drove the team 58 yards, going 3/5 through the air, and capping things off with a 21-yard touchdown lob to Mario Manningham to go back on top 21-17. The Michigan defense complemented that effort by amping up their pressure even more, holding the Huskers to eight plays for nine yards on their next two drives.
Henne and company kept up the assault early in the fourth when the sophomore gunslinger scampered for a seven yard touchdown to put the Wolverines up 28-17. Lloyd Carr's club looked to be on the verge of putting the game away when the Huskers finally showed signs of life with just under nine minutes left in the contest.
Nebraska punt returner Cortney Grixby retuned a Ross Ryan punt 27 yards to the Michigan 38 to give his team its best field position of the night. At that point Bill Callahan decided to go with the only aspect of his offense that was having any success…the rushing of tailback Cory Ross. The senior answered the call for his team, eating up the 38 yards in two plays. His 31-yard touchdown jaunt narrowed Michigan's advantage to three (28-25) with 8:08 left in the game.
The Wolverines had answered the Huskers at almost every turn on the night, and with the game hanging in the balance, they were looking to do so again. Unfortunately, mental errors in the clutch would make a repeat of their earlier performance extremely difficult.
On the first play of the Wolverines' next possession, senior receiver Jason Avant fumbled after hauling in a 10 yard pass. That gave Nebraska good field position at the 50 yard line, but the Michigan defense stiffened to force a three and out. Despite that reprieve, the offense again shot itself it the foot.
On the second play of the next drive, Chad Henne was hit from behind just as he started to bring his arm forward to pass. The play was ruled a fumble on the field, but it was an extremely questionable call that could have just as easily been ruled an incomplete pass. In a repeat of their first half ineptitude, the officials refused to review the play. That again prompted Lloyd Carr to call timeout to encourage further examination. The officials then chose to take another look, but this time it didn't work out in Michigan's favor. The ruling on the field stood and Bill Callahan's club got the ball at the Michigan 17.
Nebraska wasted little time capitalizing on the mistake. Taylor hooked up with a wide open Terrence Nunn for on a 13-yard touchdown pass to put the Huskers up 32-28.
Two golden opportunities to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat came Michigan's way in the waning moments of the game, but they weren't able to make good on either of them. The Wolverines drove 47 yards to the Nebraska 18 on their next possession, but a 3rd down drop and 4th down break-up (both of which were thrown to Mario Manningham) ended the drive with 2:21 left on the clock. They got the ball back with seven seconds left and almost scored when eight laterals between a host of Wolverines resulted in a 33 yard scamper down the sideline by Tyler Ecker. The Maize and Blue's hopes were dashed, though, when he was ridden out of bounds inside the 10 yard line to end the game.
On the game Chad Henne finished 20/42 for 219 yards with three touchdowns and one rushing. Mike Hart paced the Wolverines rushing attack with 19 rushes for 74 yards. For the Huskers, Zach Taylor went 14/32 for 167 yards and three touchdowns. While Cory Ross finished as the game's MVP with 28 rushes for 161 yards and a TD. For more on the game, click the following links: Boxscore, Notes.
GoBlueWolverine will have much more on the game in the hours to come.