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.