Another game, another close loss that we just can’t close out. I tell ya, it feels much better to be close with these top 10 teams like Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Michigan than losing to Ohio State 52-17 and saying “we just look better” and having to convince ourselves of that. It was an unbelievable atmosphere on Saturday, and even though it felt a little somber when we were down 13-0, we came roaring back and made this a freaking game.
In my game preview, I called for a 4 point win by Michigan because I just didn’t think we were ready to beat a team the level of Michigan yet. They have a lot of talent, and what was going to happen when we got punched in the mouth? Excuse my double negative, but I just didn’t trust us to not do something stupid late with the game on the line. I know a lot of people sat there and got mad about the refs, but in the end Nebraska got the ball with 3 minutes left, 3 timeouts in a tie ball game, and turned it over in our own territory to end up losing the game.
I don’t deny we look so much better than we did in 2020 or even the beginning of 2021, but at some point we gotta get W’s instead of L’s. Otherwise it’s just like my Iowa friend said in the preview, the one possession losses is just a stat that we are good at finding ways to lose the game. Michigan State and Michigan were both awful last year, yet playing them close this year is considered progress. I don’t know where i’m at on that, but I do know we look better. We should be 4-3 right now minimum, but we aren’t. That’s our reality. Let’s get into some hot takes before dissecting the game.
Hot Take 1 – Where would football be if we didn’t have replay?
Was officiating this bad before replay, or do I just notice it more now since every time there’s an error it gets replayed? Think about how this game would have ended up if they would have allowed that Michigan score where the guy jumped over the endzone, luckily it was called back because the Michigan QBs knee was down. Or what about the fumble they called on Martinez that ended up actually being an incomplete pass? Two pivotal plays that if not for replay would have went against us. Kind of incredible.
Hot Take 2 – I hate the “refs cost us this game”
Before I mock this take, the refs were bad. Awful actually. But they were terrible both ways. I know everyone goes to the “joint possession” call or the “discerning signals” call, or the PI on Domann, and those are atrocious, I get it. But Nebraska actually had 2 touchdowns where penalties should have been called on us, and they weren’t. On Austin Allen’s touchdown, we are in an unbalanced formation forcing Michigan to break their rules a bit on defense. However, you are only allowed 4 people to be off the LOS (including the QB) and we have 5 here. Essentially, Michigan was forced to cover 7 different players that could go down field (RT, QB, RB, TE, WR x 3).
The whole reason that play works is because up top Michigan has an edge setter and a safety that is accounting for the end man on the line of scrimmage. Essentially, one of the WRs on the bottom of the formation needed to be on the line of scrimmage and not go out for a pass, but all 3 went out and so did Austin Allen. We scored because someone went out for a pass that shouldn’t have.
You also have our INT that shouldn’t have happened as we should have been called for offsides.
I mean, and the one other touchdown of ours the refs weren’t supposed to call a penalty but they were supposed to hold longer. Do you know how pissed off Frost would have been if the ref (who is supposed to make the offense wait to snap the ball until the defense gets a chance to match the offenses substitutions and get lined up) would have done this to us? The ref runs away before Michigan is even to their positions.
I only bring this up because I got into it on Twitter earlier due to a radio personality posting that the refs called a flag on holding and picked it up, but if he would have just let the tape run he’d see it was actually an illegal formation penalty that was picked up because it wasn’t an illegal formation. Husker fans use these to add to their argument the refs suck and we look like morons because it isn’t a flag on what we are saying.
I mean that’s a radio host giving information to our fans not letting the tape go another 20 seconds to see the flag wasn’t thrown for holding so he doesn’t have an awful take our fans run with. Anyone that knows football is aware that ref below is responsible for counting the amount of players he has on the LOS on his side, he threw the flag because he thought there wasn’t enough. He has zero responsibility for holding calls by interior linemen on short yardage plays.
It essentially turned into “if they called this on us they should have called that on them” which isn’t how things work usually. In the grand scheme of things, Nebraska got screwed on some plays by the refs and so did Michigan. Trying to sift through the game to show how bad we had it compared to them, or vice versa, is just a losing battle (as i’ve shown three touchdowns of ours the refs screwed up or missed a call). As Frost said about that Martinez fumble, we can’t leave it up to them. Leave no doubt. We gotta leave the excuse train at some point. And blaming the refs is loser mentality. Tell me they sucked, but don’t be blatantly wrong on your video saying he threw a flag for holding and picked it up. And certainly don’t act like the refs screwed us into losing the game. A Michigan fan can point to plays where it would turn into a blowout if the refs called it correctly.
Hot Take 3 – Scott Frost did what all of us expected when he was hired, dialed up plays to win games against a superior team
I was really pissed about what I saw the first 3.5 years. Just nothing was what I thought it would be. A lot of that has changed this year. We went unbalanced formations to create mismatches, and the plays to Rahmir Johnson and Levi Falck were not only well designed plays, but supremely timed and set up with earlier play calls. Let’s be real, if not for a RB wheel backside or an illegal formation referenced above, we aren’t even close in this game. The Levi Falck score where he fakes coming around and we float it back out, there was literally no one covering him because of how Frost had called the game the first 2-3 quarters, he kept that one in his back pocket for the exact right time.
Hot Take 4 – Adrian Martinez is a better quarterback than McNamara
I should probably put this #1 but i’ll bury it a bit. Adrian Martinez who gets a lot of shit is better than Michigan’s QB. Martinez was the #7 ranked dual threat QB in the 2018 class, and McNamara was the #8 ranked pro style QB in the 2019 class. They are very equal in what they showed up with, i’d even give the edge to Martinez a bit. The issue for AMart is that he’s asked to do way more than McNamara is. Our OL couldn’t open any holes for our RBs and the Wolverines could hunt Martinez and play coverage. Conversely, Michigan is able to get some room for their RBs so our defense has to defend all 11 guys, not just focus on one, so he has easier throws to make than Martinez.
I brought this up to a buddy and told him “I think that’s why Martinez just has some untimely turnovers. When you rely so much on one guy, the more opportunities he gets the more chances he has to have something negative happen.” Michigan was even subbing out their QB in certain yardage situations, where Frost/Lubick basically needed Martinez to get every first down for us one way or the other. Michigan had one RB with 123 yards and another with 89 yards. I certainly didn’t see that coming, but Michigan was able to run on us even when we had 7 in the box to their 6 blockers.
I understand the great ones thrive in those situations… I just think with some personnel we’ve had for him and how many times we ask him to make a play for us, it’s basically just our team needing him to do it one time too many on most occasions. If he had the help McNamara had, he would be even more dangerous than he is.
Hot Take 5 – Special Teams are doing a 180
Was pretty nice to not have to see us completely piss down our leg there. Our kickoff coverage was great, our kickoff specialist was kicking it out of the endzone when necessary, and the punt teams looked night and day different. Crazy how much that can help.
Hot Take 6 – Nebraska was clapping to throw things off, but not when they called it, and it is about as big of a deal as when we complained Iowa did it, so not a deal at all.
If none of you saw this, I tweeted out Harbaugh was a little pissed at us doing this:
Just like when Frost got mad at Iowa and I mocked him, i’m going to have to mock Harbaugh here. Were they doing it? Yes. But when they called it Reimer was just trying to get the attention of his teammate which isn’t illegal at all. Just adds to the list of why Harbaugh frustrates me. He wasn’t wrong we were doing it, but the timeliness of the call was bogus. Unfortunately the defense technically isn’t supposed to clap anymore which is completely ridiculous.
Hot Take/Question 8 – Is it coaching or the players that make it so we have all these close losses?
Saw this tweet and really got me thinking:
1 win, and that was orchestrated by Noah Vedral, not our four year starter. I actually like Martinez as a QB, but what if the issue isn’t coaching but people folding during crunch time? I don’t think you just sub another QB in during the 4th quarter but what if that’s our issue and not coaching? On the other hand, what if our coaching and/or play calls are what make it so we have the issues? I just have no idea what to think with it. Reminds me a bit of the “what’s wrong with the offense” question where you have no idea if it’s the OL being that bad, QB making wrong reads, etc.
Let’s get to the game, how did Michigan attack us offensively?
I was actually quite surprised how many yards Michigan was able to get on us. They opened some holes, but as I wrote about in my preview, when you get a lot of unbalanced lines it gets very tough to align correctly every single time. Michigan had some success getting unbalanced against us and putting us in tough spots. Here, you see up top that the tackle is actually eligible, so Garrett Nelson is setting the edge, but you also have your cornerback up top outside of him to take care of the flats/any other routes coming his way. Essentially, Michigan had us so we had 2 guys to do one job on a freaking offensive tackle who is zero threat except for to block someone.
We essentially are extremely weak to the top since we have two defenders outside the widest guy on offense, and you see Haskins try to cut up that way, but the push was so much at the point of attack he was able to just keep going forward. The unbalanced sets make things really difficult on defenses because the general defensive rules in “normal sets” get situations like this where you have an OLB and a CB taking care of a tackle up top.
But Michigan also found a great work around for our defense as well. They killed us all game with TE delay. This is the first time they run it, but these plays are beautifully designed and executed. What essentially happens is the TE acts as if he’s blocking and gets our LBs from the second level coming with a full sprint and as soon as they get close he releases for an easy catch and run for the first.
They had two more wrinkles I was impressed with. First, if you remember I had posted/tweeted how great it is that with a veteran defense we can add wrinkles to really disguise things against offenses (give this space coyote guy a follow if you don’t already). Here, it looks like a 2 high but it turns into a robber coverage that makes things nearly impossible pre-snap for the offense to figure out what to do:
Michigan has a play that was one of my favorite to run in college. I always would get so mad when they would call a play where I was running a fade, and the corner would bail at the last second (sprint backwards since he had deep coverage to not get beat deep). You basically knew that the ball wasn’t coming your way. It was awful. Our coach at the time came up with what was called a “2 read” (2 was fade, read was for WR to read the coverage). When defenses disguise what their safeties and coverage is, it makes things really difficult, so why not build something in that can change on the fly during the play? If the corner bails, you just run a stop route, if the corner stays tight you run a fade. Here, you see our corner at the bottom bail at the very last second (gives it away a little early) so the Michigan WR just stops and it’s an easy pitch/catch.
Here, this is essentially the same play (I know it’s flipped) but since our corner stays up in press coverage, it turns into a fade route for the WR at the bottom:
One more where our corner bails up top so the WR just sits. Unfortunately the defense just can’t be right in these situations (probably good to give this Dalton East NE guy a follow as well).
I think it’s time to give props to Cam Taylor-Britt as Michigan came after him early and often. They weren’t impressed with him on film and he had been struggling a bit, but that guy had a really good game in my opinion and came up with big play after big play for us.
Nebraska had a little bit of trouble with a play that many people may recognize as G lead. When Michigan was bringing extra blockers to the points of attack, they were getting some good runs. We pretty much are already screwed on this play due to alignment, and we have a backside OL coming to wreck shop as well, tough for us on this one.
Long and short, Michigan had a good gameplan and scored more than I thought they would against our defense. But we were in the game until the very end. We will see how things go for us next week against a much less talented team.
Nebraska’s offense vs Michigan’s Defense:
We talked in the preview about how if we weren’t able to run the ball with a RB, winning the game would be very difficult for the Cornhuskers. Yant and Johnson could never really get going, so the Wolverines could key on Martinez and the passing game. With a young OL, that makes a lot of sense. But we said if we don’t get someone to 100 yards that isn’t Martinez, it will be tough sledding. We didn’t, and a loss happened.
But again, Nebraska came out and just schemed the hell out of putting Michigan into some awful situations when we passed the ball. Frost and Lubick tried to get our running game going, but it just wasn’t working, so I applaud how many different ways we attacked the Wolverines. Here’s a good one where we show Toure going across the formation in motion, then heads back the other way putting the LB who has a gap in conflict to cover a fast WR coming across the formation.
That play reminds me a lot of what NFL teams tried to do. You have a guy coming across behind the LOS so linebackers have no idea if it’s a puller kicking someone out or if they are going out for a pass. The play hits very quick and for players that have a gap responsibility to take care of as well, it’s a tough conflict.
And remember how I talked about plays earlier building to big plays later? On the other site I used to talk about where something you did earlier set up what you did later. Toure came across the LOS earlier in the quarter for a big gain, no doubt Michigan talked about that in adjustments. So what does Frost dial up? A play this time using Manning coming across, putting the LB in conflict where he has to take a gap in the run game AND cover Rahmir Johnson on the wheel. Typically it’s not a huge deal as the RB is running to the flat but he takes it up the sideline.
Little wrinkle, but you see how confused Michigan was trying to take away what they talked about in adjustments, but then being vulnerable to the wheel. That’s how these things should go.
I had a lot of people talk to me about the first series and not getting points on fourth down. Hindsight obviously should have kicked the ball, but I get what Frost was doing. The one thing I didn’t understand is why Yant was on the sideline during it. I think you need to get your goalline back in there and get the yards with either him or your QB.
I don’t want to say Nebraska abandoned the run, we tried, we just couldn’t get things going there. The great news was that I think Frost and Lubick kind of saw that coming and had Plan B’s with the passing game that I was showing there. But I give props to those coaches because it is really hard to not get away from trying to run when it is failing to work, they continued to try and pound the rock and saw a few creases open in the second half, it just wasn’t going to win the game for us.
And continuing the kudos, in the preview I was asked in the comment section how we neutralize their OLBs against our tackles that are overmatched. I brought up that one of the things you can do is just not block them and make them guess wrong every time. Based on what they choose you hand it off, keep it, or pitch it. Take them out of the equation like on this play.
In the end while there were more points/yards than we anticipated in the preview, this played out exactly how we said it was going to happen. We were going to have some wrinkles that gave them fits, but when the dust settles we were just not going to have enough and lose by a few to the Wolverines. It’s tough, but we need to find a way to win one of these.
Glass is half full, this changes nothing for us. I predicted us losing to Michigan in the season preview, and we still have a great chance to get to a bowl game even with this loss. In that preview, I had us winning our next two and there’s nothing that makes me think we should lose to Minnesota or Purdue. While the Gophers will be coming off a bye, they are in no way the team that Michigan State, Oklahoma, or Michigan is. However, they are better than Illinois, and that’s the concern. Because we can not afford to drop another game we shouldn’t if we want to get to a bowl. I do believe if we want to be playing postseason football you can’t lose either of your next two, and if you want to keep the momentum for your team and faith from the fanbase, you can not lose either of these next two contests.
Back on the right side of the scoreboard next week. Go Big Red!