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LINCOLN — The final stat sheet Saturday night showed that Nebraska picked up six points on a pair of third-quarter drives that extended inside the Michigan 15-yard line.
By the Huskers' math, they feel as if they gave away eight.
NU twice settled for field goals when it had prime scoring chances, failing to put more distance between itself and the Wolverines in a tight game. With another low-scoring affair potentially at Michigan State on Saturday, the Huskers may need find the end zone the next time around.
“There were some things that we didn't execute late in drives,” NU I-back Ameer Abdullah said. “We were in the red zone and we've got to finish better. It's just a mind-set.”
In addition to Abdullah and two offensive mates saying that the Huskers simply didn't make the plays, consider one other possible factor: the absence of I-back Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead, who has 28 career rushing touchdowns, gives Nebraska a hard-nosed and experienced back at the goal line. The senior also has taken snaps at quarterback inside the 5 the last two years — most recently pitching twice to Abdullah for short TD runs at Ohio State — and ran some Wildcat in the past.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck acknowledged that the Huskers might work some things differently in the red zone if they had a healthy Burkhead.
“Short yardage and goal line certainly,” Beck said. “We were even using him at quarterback in those things. We've run that play five times for five touchdowns in two years.
“You can do so many things with him.”
With or without Burkhead, Nebraska wants to go back to getting touchdowns when it has the opportunity.
Before Saturday night, the Huskers had TDs on 71.4 percent of their red-zone trips (25 of 35). That dropped to 68.4 percent after they converted once against Michigan — on Abdullah's 12-yard run in the fourth quarter.
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By getting points on all three red-zone trips, Nebraska improved to 89.5 percent for the season (34 of 38) — third in the Big Ten. But the Huskers know that a field goal might not be good enough down the line.
“Touchdowns win championships,” NU offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “We just had some execution errors is what it came down to on all parts. It wasn't one guy or a group of guys, just the whole offense.”
One of the two stuck out to Beck as he went back to study what went wrong.
With first-and-goal at the 4 after P.J. Smith's interception and 53-yard return, Beck said Nebraska missed a line call as Abdullah was held to a 2-yard gain.
Mike Marrow then wasn't sharp in running a second-down route as Taylor Martinez passed incomplete, but NU also chose to throw to a fullback with no catches on the season. Martinez threw a good ball to Jamal Turner on third down that Turner lost in the lights at the end of a fade route.
“We should have scored twice, for sure, I thought,” Beck said. “Both those pass plays.”
Two possessions later, a Martinez-to-Abdullah pass lost 3 yards after the Huskers reached first-and-10 at the 11. Martinez then threw incomplete on back-to-back passes to tight end Kyler Reed from the 14.
The botched red-zone chances came after Nebraska had some trouble with third-and-short plays the week before at Northwestern. But Martinez said Michigan also deserved some of the credit Saturday night.
“They're a really good defense and the little stuff kept breaking down,” he said. “It happens, so there's not much you can say about it.”
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