Michigan: Five things we learned vs. Nebraska

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey holds onto the ball during a third-quarter run in Saturday's win over Nebraska.

Five takeaways from Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News following Michigan's 56-10 win over Nebraska on Saturday.

O-line has a chip

They’ve been tired of being pushed around — literally. Michigan’s starting five offensive linemen have talked and talked and talked since the spring after a few months under the direction of new offensive line coach Ed Warinner of being a nastier bunch that can control games. In the Big Ten opener win over Nebraska, the Wolverines rushed for 285 yards. Karan Higdon led the way with 136 yards on 12 carries and scored a touchdown and fullback Ben Mason scored three touchdowns. Michigan averaged 6.3 yards a carry. Those numbers, while they appear in the box score next to the players’ names, are very much what the offensive linemen are feeling good about these days. After a paltry 58 rushing yards at Notre Dame, Michigan has averaged 263.3 yards rushing the last three games. “Really ran the ball well,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Protected the passer extremely well. Did a good job in all the plays. Really good moving (and) controlling the line of scrimmage. In all phases I thought the offensive line played extremely well. Maybe their best game.” Left guard Ben Bredeson, a team co-captain and three-year starter, said the offensive line had a clear goal against the Cornhuskers. “We were definitely going to win the physicality battle,” Bredeson said. “We were feeling really good as an offensive unit. We were feeling good about the holes we were making and the backs were finishing them. We were happy with it.”

Mason is a bruiser

Technically, this isn’t something we learned. It merely was confirmed that fullback Ben Mason is bulldozer of a player who offers versatility. Mason, a 6-foot-3, 254-pound sophomore, had six carries for 18 yards and scored three touchdowns. He scored twice from a yard out and also on a 4-yard run. “Inertia,” Harbaugh said simply when asked why Mason had a bigger role. “That was the main factor in that decision. When he gets going, I think he’s 258 pounds and he gets moving fast and he’s running hard, he’s got a talent and an ability. I like having Ben Mason in the game. Talk about a physical player … taking advantage of his skill set.” Mason is considered one of the strongest players on the team and running backs coach Jay Harbaugh said last week Mason brings an attitude of wanting to mow down opponents on every play. “I really try to bring the same mindset every single game,” Mason said. “Just come in, attack people and do the best that I can.”

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Getting his kicks

Quinn Nordin is now 4-of-5 on field goals this season and made two against Nebraska from 50 and 38 yards. He became the second kicker at Michigan to make three field goals of 50 yards or more during his career — joining Hayden Epstein, who had four (1998-2001) — and he had plenty of leg on his 50-yarder Saturday. There haven’t been a number of opportunities for Nordin this season, but getting the 50-yarder had to be a boost and gave the coaching staff additional confirmation his leg can handle a big kick.

QBs getting settled

Starting quarterback Shea Patterson wasn’t asked to do a whole lot against Nebraska. He was 15-of-22 passing for 120 yards and a touchdown. Ho hum. Kidding. He did what he was asked to do and with the game out of hand early, backup Dylan McCaffrey came in with roughly five minutes left in the third quarter. McCaffrey looked smooth again and was 3-of-8 for 86 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown pass to Ronnie Bell. McCaffrey had a long touchdown run called back because of a hold. What Harbaugh has learned after four games is he has a capable backup in McCaffrey, a redshirt freshman who seems unfazed by the big stage, under the lights or in a blowout.

Shuffling them in

Michigan has used two games — Western Michigan and Nebraska — to involve so many more players than usual. You hear the names of the future, while starters like Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich enjoy a breather. Freshman defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, for instance, enjoyed a good amount of playing time and had three tackles, including one for loss. The young offensive linemen also got to experience game action. “Good to see those other guys get play,” Harbaugh said. “We played 78 guys. That’s good for progress of the team.”


Twitter @chengelis