LINCOLN — Michigan's game plan Saturday night was the football equivalent of an old-fashioned, four-corner stall in basketball.
Possess the ball as much as possible. Break the offensive huddle deliberately to milk the clock. Keep the second-largest crowd in Memorial Stadium history from finding much to cheer.
And avoid giving up big plays while trying to make Nebraska go to third down as much as possible.
That strategy was working deep into the second quarter.
Michigan had held the ball for about 12 more minutes than Nebraska and was eight yards away from a go-ahead touchdown.
Then the Wolverines' point guard — er, quarterback — got hurt.
Denard Robinson's nerve injury to his lower throwing arm with 3:51 left in the second quarter dashed any hope Michigan had to leave with a win. Nebraska pulled away for a 23-9 victory.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Robinson's injury was similar to the bruised nerve suffered two weeks ago against Illinois. But that time, it sidelined Robinson only for one series.
This time, after scrambling for seven yards to set up first-and-goal at the 8, he left the game for good. Michigan trailed 7-3 at the time and settled for a field goal after three plays to close to 7-6. The Wolverines never got that close again.
Hoke said he checked with the medical staff twice in the second half to see if Robinson could return.
“But he just couldn't grip a ball well enough or feel like he could throw well enough,” the coach said.
Robinson wasn't made available for interviews. He spent the second half on the sideline wearing a blue overcoat. As the game's final seconds ticked off, he walked quickly down the sideline with a U of M media relations official to the locker room without going onto the field.
What followed Robinson's injury was one of the shakiest quarterback performances I've seen at Memorial Stadium since Nebraska's now-disbanded freshman team destroyed some forgettable junior college in the 1980s.
Let's measure it this way:
In the 34 snaps the Wolverines ran with Robinson, they gained 144 yards. In the 30 snaps after that with backup quarterback Russell Bellomy, they gained 44 yards.
Before Saturday night, the redshirt freshman from Arlington, Texas, had played in four college games with seven rushing attempts for 16 yards, 1 of 5 completions with an interception and a negative efficiency rating.
Bellomy won't lose that minus sign after completing 3 of 16 passes for 38 yards with three interceptions. He also was sacked twice, which left him with zero net yards in five rush attempts as the Huskers blitzed him silly.
The Michigan folks tried to downplay Robinson's absence, but senior receiver Roy Roundtree finally stated the obvious.
“You've got one of the dynamic quarterbacks in the NCAA who breaks all the records, and he went down,” Roundtree said. “Yeah, it was a big factor.”
Michigan's lone scoring drive after Robinson's injury was for a third-quarter field goal. Of the 58 yards in that possession, 45 came from Nebraska penalties.
Until Robinson got hurt, Hoke liked the game's tempo. Time of possession is a much bigger factor in Big Ten play than in the Big 12, and at halftime UM had held the ball 20:47 to Nebraska's 9:13 with 40 snaps to NU's 24.
“You always like that,” Hoke said. “It's part of it. But defensively I never felt real comfortable all night.”
Robinson got hurt on a scramble toward the sideline in which he cut back at the last moment to gain an extra two yards. Hoke wasn't among the second-guessers who thought Robinson should have stepped out of bounds to avoid contact.
“He's a pretty good competitor,” Hoke said. “Sometimes, competitors are stubborn. He was trying to get in the end zone.
“For me to say he shouldn't have done that would make me a hypocrite.”
Despite Bellomy's struggles, at no time did Hoke consider yanking him. Former quarterback Devin Gardner, now a wide receiver, takes occasional snaps in practice but wasn't prepared to play, Hoke said. Also, Michigan had no Wildcat formation to fall back on.
Nebraska fans will be keenly interested to see how soon Robinson returns.
The Huskers and Michigan are tied atop the Big Ten Legends Division standings at 3-1 with four games to play, but NU controls its destiny by holding the head-to-head tiebreaker against U of M.
There is no rehab to help Robinson get better, Hoke said.
The only thing that has been beneficial so far is rest — something that won't come easy to the Wolverines until they know when their offensive star can get back in the game.
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>> Video: Husker postgame analysis with Rich Kaipust: