First-half observations: Michigan's defense digs in, offense closes on strong note

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Lincoln, Neb. — Michigan leads 13-0 at halftime at Nebraska with two field goals from Jake Moody, but the Wolverines have to be kicking themselves for leaving points on the field.

The first scoring drive was set up by a stunning interception by Dax Hill.

Hill made the play on his back, intercepting Adrian Martinez with 12:47 left in the second quarter to give the Wolverines the ball at the Nebraska 35-yard line. This was Hill’s second straight game with an interception.

Michigan ran the ball each play but was stopped at the Nebraska 17-yard line and came away with the 35-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) passes the ball during the first half at Nebraska on Saturday.

Late in the half, after Hassan Haskins ran 3 yards to convert a first down, Cade McNamara completed a 48-yard pass to Mike Sainristil to the Nebraska 6-yard line. But on third down at the 1-yard line, Haskins’ 1-yard touchdown was negated after a review showed McNamara’s knee was down before he made the handoff. The Wolverines settled for another field goal.

With 1:37 left in the half, Michigan looked efficient as it drove 76 yards on 11 plays and finally got in the end zone on a 3-yard run from Haskins. Nebraska was called for a pass interference that gave Michigan the ball at the 3-yard line.

Communication struggles

Michigan worried about communication at Wisconsin a week ago, but that was never an issue, the luxury of taking an early lead and quieting the crowd. But playing at night at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium has been a different animal.

The team practices all week with loud music and crowd noise piped in, but it’s rowdy and raucous here. Michigan was called for two false-start penalties in the first quarter. Left tackle Ryan Hayes drew the first penalty in the Wolverines’ opening drive before the second play of the game that negated a 4-yard pass from McNamara to Daylen Baldwin.

Just before the end of the first quarter, left guard Trevor Keegan was called for a false start that put Michigan in a third-and-10 situation.

Late in the second quarter, Michigan made some substitutions on the offensive line as Karsen Barnhart came in at left guard and Chuck Filiaga in at right guard, but late in the half, starters Trevor Keegan and Zak Zinter were back at the left and right guard spots, respectively.

Defense is being tested, but …

Nebraska’s opening drive went 78 yards on nine plays, including a 43-yard pass play the first play from scrimmage then a 24-yard pass play to convert on fourth down to the Michigan 11-yard line. But on fourth-and-2 at the 3, Martinez was thrown for a 1-yard loss turning over the ball on downs.

Michigan’s defense came through again on the Cornhuskers’ next possession and had a little help from a 15-yard penalty. On a third-and-long, Martinez was under pressure from Aidan Hutchinson, who got a hand on his shoulder but couldn’t bring him down, and forced him left. He threw incomplete to force a punt.

David Ojabo recorded the first sack of the game late in the half. Nebraska has 129 yards, including 94 passing. The Cornhuskers are 1-for-6 on third down. Nebraska was held to 32 yards in the second quarter. 

Special specialists

This has been quite a first half for punter Brad Robbins, who started things off after Michigan’s stalled first possession with a booming 57-yard punt to give Nebraska starting position at its 18-yard line.

Robbins had three punts for 147 yards (49-yard average) and the Cornhuskers’ three first-quarter drives started at their 18, 35 and 6. His third punt traveled 51 yards and Oliver Martin, a former Michigan receiver, made the fair catch at the 6-yard line.

Moody scored the first points of the half on a 35-yard field goal to give Michigan a 3-0 lead, then added the 21-yarder. He is 10-for-11 on field-goal attempts this season.

Twitter: @chengelis