A season that was floundering after an embarrassing loss at Ohio State and a tumble out of the ratings suddenly looks promising after a pair of wins, including a muscular 23-9 throttling of No. 20 Michigan Saturday night. Nebraska has itself in good position in the Big Ten Legends Division race, owning the tiebreaker over Michigan.
Is Nebraska slowly building championship-caliber momentum?
The Nebraska defense rose up and slapped around Michigan, the blueblood of the Big Ten. The Blackshirts knocked dynamic senior quarterback Dennard Robinson out of the game in the second quarter with an injured elbow.
The game had plenty riding on the outcome. A loss would have ended the Cornhuskers' Big Ten title hopes. Now we will find out if Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) can play with consistency.
The rest of the games on the schedule are winnable if the Huskers can stay at least even in turnovers with each opponent. Next up is a road game at Michigan State, which upset Wisconsin in overtime Saturday night.
Before we become overly optimistic, it's wise to note that the Huskers still have not played a clean game.
Against Michigan, they lost two turnovers and committed eight penalties for 104 yards, but the defense earned back the title of Blackshirts by holding the Wolverines to 188 total yards.
The win was the 11th consecutive night game victory at home for the Big Red.
Here are my top three keys to the game. You can tell us about yours by using the Talk Back feature.
1. The Husker defense was excellent, holding Michigan to just 52 yards after halftime and not allowing a touchdown. The Blackshirts played bend-but-don't-break in the first half, using caution and decent execution in stringing out Robinson and not allowing him any runs longer than seven yards. They got more aggressive against freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy in the second half.
2. Nebraska won the kicking game, getting a big edge in field position although the Huskers did not capitalize on it as well as they should have. Brett Maher, the senior from Kearney, was effective, hitting field goals of 19, 51 and 31 yards – he now has 31 career field goals, good for fourth on Nebraska's all-time list.
Maher also had a good night punting, using the rugby-style punt to advantage. One of his kicks glanced off the hands of the Wolverine return man and rolled out of bounds at the Michigan 2-yard line.
The Huskers' kick coverage was much improved, although they still struggle to return kicks well. At least there were no turnovers on special teams; two fumbles on kickoffs absolutely devastated NU last season in Ann Arbor.
3. Nebraska did well enough in two key areas – turnover margin and third down efficiency – to beat Michigan. Nebraska went plus-1 in turnovers, which will be the key to Nebraska's success throughout the rest of the season. The Blackshirts got three takeaways, all on interceptions. On third down, Nebraska played Michigan to a draw, going 4-12 while the Wolverines converted 5-15.
Tad Stryker is the former sports editor of the North Platte Bulletin and provides analysis after each Husker football game for Bulletin readers. Stryker also writes for HuskerMax. (http://www.huskermax.com).