Heading into a Week 4 showdown with Nebraska, Michigan was heavily favored, as they were an 18 point favorite, but to prove themselves, they needed to do more. Scott Frost’s Nebraska team looked to be a formidable opponent, as many feared dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez would run all over the Michigan defense and fuel and upset bid in the Big House.
What unfolded Saturday was anything but an upset bid. Martinez converted the first 3rd and long of the day with a 32 yard pass to Stanley Morgan Jr., but that success was short-lived. On the next play, Martinez’s pass was tipped at the line by defensive tackle Lawrence Marshall and safety Josh Metellus picked it off before the ball hit the ground. The Wolverines scored six plays later, as fullback Ben Mason got his first of three touchdowns on the day.
Michigan’s defense remained dominant, limiting Nebraska to 17 yards in the first half, 15 less than their best play of the first half, the 32 yard pass to open the game. The defense only forced the one turnover, but they also forced a safety in the second quarter. True freshman defensive end Aidan Hutchinson tipped a screen by Martinez, who caught it and tried to throw it again while in the endzone. The safety gave Michigan a 39 point lead heading into halftime. They allowed ten points in the second half and 135 yards on those two drives, but outside of that, the defense was solid. The only true complaint a Michigan fan could have about the defense against Nebraska is that linebacker Khaleke Hudson was ejected for targeting for the second consecutive game, and will miss the first half against Northwestern.
Michigan’s offense continued its excellence running the football as they ran for 285 yards on 45 attempts, good for 6.3 yards per carry. Running back Karan Higdon led the way with 136 yards and a touchdown, and fullback Ben Mason scored 3 touchdowns on the day. Higdon’s 136 yards rushing were more than Nebraska’s total yardage of 132. Shea Patterson didn’t light it up, completing 15 of his 22 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, but he didn’t need to as Michigan ran the ball for most of the game. Patterson made the throws he needed to make and continues to be an upgrade from the 2017 quarterback situation.
Dylan McCaffrey came off the bench to complete 3 of 8 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. His first play was a 75 yard touchdown run that was called back due to a holding call. Brandon Peters was the third Michigan quarterback to see action, though his role was mostly to hand the ball off. He threw one pass, which was picked off in the end zone. Many receivers saw action, as Grant Perry was the only one to have more than three receptions. True freshman Ronnie Bell led the team in receiving yards with a 56 yard touchdown catch from McCaffrey, his only catch of the day.
The special teams unit dominated as well, led by a 60 yard punt return for a touchdown from Donovan Peoples-Jones in the second half. It was one of three returns for Peoples-Jones, who elected to call for a fair catch on most of the other nine Nebraska punts. Ronnie Bell returned one punt, and had a lane for a big return before he has brought down by a facemask penalty. Punter Will Hart only punted three times, but he continued to prove himself as one of the best punters in the country. He punted for 178 yards on three punts, an average of 59.3 yards per punt and had a long of 64 yards. He had a punt waived off due to a Michigan penalty before the snap, but it appeared to be at least a 60 yard punt, showcasing his powerful leg.
On one of Hart’s punts, Nebraska returned Tyjon Lindsey let it bounce to him, and it bounced off of his shoulder, as it bounced off of him, he was tackled by the Michigan punt coverage unit, and sophomore picked it up and ran it to the end zone. It was called back due to a rule that doesn’t allow the kicking team to return muffed punts. The touchdown would have given Michigan a 27-0 lead to end the first quarter. Kicker Quinn Nordin was 2/2 on field goals with a long of 50 yards, but missed an extra point in the first quarter, ending the game 5/6.
Michigan needed a blowout win to prove that they have improved from 2017, and they got exactly that. This is the third game in a row in which the Wolverines have put up at least 40 points, and the second time in three games that they have won by 46 points. In 2017, they did not score 40 or more points once, the closest they came was 36 against Cincinnati in Week 2. Additionally, the pair of 46 point wins are the largest margin Michigan has won a game since they beat Maryland 59-3 in Week 9 of the 2016 season. The talent level of their opponents may be inferior, but winning big against a Big Ten team will go a long way in proving the type of team Michigan can be in 2018. This Michigan team appears to be closer to the 2016 team than the 2017 team, and if they can keep improving upon their results and imposing their will on teams, they can have the potential to have more success than the 2016 team that finished 10-3.