Huskers earn blackshirts and division lead with 23-9 win
Story by Grant Muessel, NewsNetNebraska
After shutting down the Michigan offense, Nebraska rejoined the Top 25 and took the lead in the Big Ten Legends Division when the Huskers defeated the Wolverines 23-9 on Saturday.
The Huskers came into the game controlling their path to the Big Ten Championship. They aimed to contain dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson while avoiding turnovers — both which led to a Huskers loss last season in Ann Arbor.
Coaches credited better execution on defense and resilience on offense for the win.
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis called the matchup a classic Big Ten game.
“(It) was kind of a low-scoring, gutty, grind-it-out kind of deal,” he said. “It was surreal in the last couple of minutes knowing that you won the game. It was a hard-fought win that really probably came down to about eight to 10 plays on both sides.”
The Huskers doubled their number of interceptions to six Saturday after picking off Michigan backup Russell Bellomy three times in the second half after Robinson left the game when he aggravated a previous elbow injury.
After five missed interception opportunities against Northwestern, the Husker coaches installed a new drill in which the entire team and coaching staff did 10 pushups when an interceptions was dropped in practice.
“For a while there I was thinking we didn’t have anybody on the defense who could catch,” Bo Pelini said with a laugh.
Pelini revealed after the win that he and the assistant defensive coaches gave out the Blackshirts to his starters on defense after Nebraska’s win over Northwestern – but the players refused to accept the symbolic practice jerseys until they defeated Michigan.
“They said they didn’t think they’ve earned them yet,” Pelini said. “It shows the character in our kids and the type of standards that they had.”
Defensive end Eric Martin showed up to his postgame interview wearing his black No. 46 jersey and said he would wear it to sleep Saturday night after Nebraska held the Michigan offense under 200 yards, nearly 200 yards fewer than its season average. During his time in game for the first two quarters, Robinson was held to six completed passes and 46 rushing yards.
Defensive end Cameron Meredith noted the quality of Michigan’s offense, especially with Robinson in the game.
“I thought we did a good job not letting him run the ball,” he said.
After knocking Robinson out of the game and defeating the Wolverines, the Huskers also knocked Michigan out of the lead in the Legends division and are still guaranteed a ticket to the conference championship game by winning out.
After many considered Michigan to be the favorite to win the Legends Division, Papuchis said it was difficult to treat this matchup like any other game.
“I struggled early in the week in how I wanted to handle it with the players,” he said. “You can’t be so short-sighted as a coach to tell them that ‘Hey, if you don’t win, it’s over,’ you know? But I did explain to them in a very clear way what was at stake.”
Unlike Pelini, who repeatedly says he treats each game’s impact equally, Papuchis noted that this particular game’s implications were obvious.
“This is the week you have to shove all your chips in the middle of the table and invest all the way from Monday to Saturday to win the game because we didn’t want to have any regrets come Saturday night,” he said.
Nebraska’s next test comes in East Lansing, Mich., when the Huskers take on Michigan State and the league’s top-ranked defense.