'We're fighters': Michigan uses late takeaway to escape Nebraska, remain unbeaten
Lincoln, Neb. — Coaches will often say each win counts the same. They do, of course, in the win-loss column, but sometimes there’s one that stands out and carries more meaning.
Ninth-ranked Michigan had that game on Saturday night at Nebraska. For the first time this season the Wolverines trailed in a game, and in the challenging, raucous environment at Memorial Stadium, they had to find a way to win.
The Wolverines saw a 13-0 halftime lead evaporate and the lead change three times in the fourth quarter but came out on top, 32-29, before 87,380. Jake Moody kicked a 39-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, with 1:24 left to win it.
“It’s definitely was a huge win,” safety Brad Hawkins said. “I give a lot of credit to Nebraska. They fought, and we fought back. They threw punches, and we threw punches back. Big Ten game. You gotta love it. We came out here and competed.”
Hawkins provided the key defensive play with 1:45 remaining and the score tied at 29, when he forced Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez to fumble. That set up Michigan’s final scoring drive.
Michigan (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) finished with 459 yards of offense, including 204 rushing. Hassan Haskins had 123 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. He had a 50-yard run during which he hurdled a player in the possession with just more than seven minutes left. Blake Corum had 89 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.
Quarterback Cade McNamara was 22 of 38 passing for 255 yards and threw the first interception of his career.
Nebraska (3-4, 1-3) had 431 total yards — the Cornhuskers had 133 in the first half — and Martinez threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Nebraska ran for 140 yards, but Martinez, the team’s leading rusher heading into the game, had 38 on eight carries.
“That was a Clint Eastwood win, and we’re going to enjoy it,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said, grinning.
In the book of Harbaugh translations, that presumably means it was tough and gritty, a word that has been used several times this season by Harbaugh and the players to describe this team and how it plays.
The second half became a pinball game of scores and lead changes. Michigan trailed for the first time this season, 22-19, late in the third quarter when Martinez found Levi Falck for a 13-yard score. The Wolverines responded with a touchdown from Corum and Martinez responded for Nebraska with a 5-yard touchdown run.
“When they gained momentum back, I reminded the O-line and the rest of the offense, they haven’t stopped us either so we’re just gonna keep going right down the field, our defense will pick us up at some point,” McNamara said. “We just have to believe in them. We know they believe in us. That’s what it came down to.
“This was a huge scenario for our team to be in. We’re not going to blow everyone out, so this game showed a lot.”
Michigan responded to Nebraska’s final touchdown that gave the Huskers a 29-26 lead with 7:08 remaining by tying it on a 31-yard field goal from Moody, setting the stage for the winning kick after Hawkins’ strip.
“In the atmosphere and the environment, it showed a lot of poise and moxie by our guys,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no doubt, they wanted to storm field, tear down the goalposts, carry them. But not on our guys’ watch tonight. It was pretty cool. Proud of them.”
The Wolverines said all week this would be the most challenging opponent to date this season in large part because of Martinez and his dual-threat ability. While they didn’t contain the offense, they made the stops when they needed. Dax Hill also had an interception for the second straight game.
“We didn’t flinch,” Hawkins said. “We stayed composed throughout the whole game. We knew adversity was going to hit. It hit, and we didn’t flinch. I love this team, I love this defense, and I know we’re fighters. We fought today, and we didn’t flinch. This is a great team and we’re going to get better.”