Shatel: Huskers come up big in crucial game - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:37 am
FOOTBALL
Shatel: Huskers come up big in crucial game

LINCOLN — Scooby Doo stood above the tunnel and waved a Blackshirts flag. Meanwhile, the Werewolf offered a five-claw salute to the conquering heroes leaving the field.

Down below, the people screamed. But they were howls of delight, from folks dressed up as happy fans, not angry wolves.

For Halloween, their favorite football team is going as a Rose Bowl contender.

Nebraska earned that title Saturday night, outslugging Michigan in a back-alley brawl in chilly October air that looked like some sort of Big Ten initiation.

The Werewolves of Lincoln passed this test. They beat up the Wolverines, 23-9. First place in the Legends Division was on the line, but it felt like a lot more for this program.

They got the Big One. This was Nebraska's best night in the Big Ten, and best game in a long while, considering the stakes, and the dark shadows of critics and impatience and full moons hovering above Lincoln.

NU drew a line in the sand and won a bruising exhibition that won't be confused with ballet. The Huskers weren't perfect, but they were good enough and then some when it counted. And all 60 minutes counted.

For the record, the Huskers pulled into a 3-1 tie with Michigan atop the Big Ten West, and the record will also show that they didn't have to put up with Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson for just over half of the game.

Robinson left with an arm injury after a 7-yard run to the NU 8-yard line with just over two minutes to go in the first half. Michigan then played the rest of the game with its shoelaces untied.

No Denard. No problem.

No apologies, either. Nor asterisks nor excuses. If you're going to nitpick this win because Robinson wasn't available, we're going to throw a flag on you for targeting Bo Pelini.

Stuff happens, especially in games when both teams hit like they mean it. NU didn't have senior I-back Rex Burkhead, and who knows what sort of impact Superman would have had on the NU running game, which hammered out 160 tough-earned yards.

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OK, Ameer Abdullah did most of the heavy lifting, going 24 times for 101 yards (4.2) and a touchdown. Rex will be missed next year, but the image of Abdullah with the ball is a pleasant trailer for next year's show. Especially that 12-yard touchdown run where he ran like a guy late for his flight running through a tight concourse.

Point is, you lose players over the course of a season. It's the replaceable parts that win games and championships.

While Abdullah looks like a front-line playmaker, Michigan had no such luck filling the shoes with untied laces.

Freshman Russell Bellomy could have used some of Robinson's dance moves in the pocket to avoid the flying Blackshirts. Poor guy. He had only appeared in four games this season for the Blue, completing 1 of 5 passes for 8 yards.

When Bellomy entered the game at first-and-goal at the 8, Nebraska's defense licked its chops. NU had already put up a roadblock on the Michigan run game. With an inexperienced pocket passer now in the house, the werewolves were coming from all angles on blitzes and various pressures.

Bellomy got spooked. He completed 3 of 16 while being sacked twice and tossed three interceptions.

Clearly, Robinson's absence impacted the game. Maybe Michigan scores a touchdown before the half if he stays in. Maybe we have a tight horse race.

But everything Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint got while Robinson was in the game (combined 66 yards on 18 carries) was hard-earned. Pelini had a nice scheme drawn up for the Michigan star.

What's more, he had the execution and effort he needed.

Nebraska's front seven looked more active than it had been all season. Led by senior linebacker Sean Fisher, who had the best game of his career, and Cam Meredith in his new role at tackle, the Blackshirts played a game that might have even impressed them.

Pelini revealed afterward that he had tried to give out black shirts last week after the Northwestern game, but the defensive players refused them, saying one week's work wasn't enough.

They found them in their lockers after shutting down Michigan, and they were more than happy to try them on for the first time all season.

And they should wear them proudly next week in practice. Their season is back on track, the Road to Indy is clear and they have the wheel. They might have to win out to play for the Big Ten title and they might not. Michigan has to play at Ohio State and the game in Minneapolis next week won't be a day at the mall, especially if Robinson isn't right.

The Huskers are right where they wanted to be all along, in position, with a tiebreaker win over Michigan, heading into November after what now will be a happy Halloween.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com; twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

* * *

>> Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the game:



>> Video: NU's Ameer Abdullah after the game:



>> Video: NU's Sean Fisher after the game:



>> Video: NU's P.J. Smith after the game:



>> Video: NU's Jeremiah Sirles after the game:



>> Video: Husker postgame analysis with Rich Kaipust:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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