LINCOLN — As the No. 2 Michigan football team crowded in its tunnel and prepared to run onto the field for its first road game of the season, the Wolverines were delayed for just a few moments. While the entire capacity of Memorial Stadium clapped along to Nebraska’s introduction song for two minutes, Michigan waited in neat formation and watched as the Cornhuskers burst out of their tunnel on the opposite corner of the field and were met with raucous cheers.
For those two minutes, Michigan saw a chaotic, roaring environment organized in opposition to it for the first time this season. But six minutes later, the crowd was silent. By halftime, it was half-empty.
On Saturday, in its most complete game of the year, Michigan (5-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) consistently and repeatedly overpowered Nebraska (2-3, 0-2), 45-7, in an all-out offensive onslaught.
“Collectively, yes I believe it is,” junior quarterback J.J. McCarthy said of whether the contest was the Wolverines’ best game to this point. “Being on the road, being able to execute on both sides of the ball and on special teams, it was just tremendous. … I’d say we executed very, very, very well.”
Whether it was on the ground or through the air, the Cornhuskers had no answer for the Wolverines’ offense the entire game. They were overwhelmed, and quickly Nebraska broke down.
On the first drive, the Wolverines showed no deference to the Cornhuskers’ highly touted run defense. They spent six minutes storming down the field with a 75-yard, 11-play drive, engineered around efficient runs. To cap the drive, McCarthy lobbed a 29-yard touchdown pass that leaping senior wide receiver Roman Wilson caught by pressing the ball against the defender’s helmet before pulling it towards his chest.
“At first I didn’t even know he caught the ball,” McCarthy said. “Then when I saw him running and (graduate lineman Karsen Barnhart) threw his arms up I was like, ‘Man that was God right there — and Roman Wilson.’ ”
Up seven after the first drive, it took the Wolverines just two plays to get the ball back on a tipped interception. And it took just three more plays for them to break through with a 20-yard touchdown run from senior running back Kalel Mullings.
Then again, early in the second quarter, Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy conducted an 88-yard touchdown drive. Then once more, just for good measure, McCarthy foundWilson again just before the half — this time he was wide open.
One half in, already up 28-0, Michigan’s offense was rolling and nothing the Cornhuskers defense did the rest of the game could stop it.
On the ground, senior and junior running backs Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards and Mullings consistently broke through to move the chains and extend drives. And in the air, McCarthy was precise and stretched the field — finishing the day 12-for-16 with 156 yards and two touchdowns.
“J.J., he makes it go,” Harbaugh said of the offense. “Probably one of his best games. The third down conversions, the degree of difficulty on the throws … and he continued to do it with his legs. Bottom line, he makes it go.”
And in the second half, the onslaught continued.
On the first drive, Corum punched in a one-yard touchdown, and just midway through the third quarter already up 35-0, Michigan took its starters out of the game.
The game was over. And even though the Wolverines managed another 11 points — nothing changed.
Because Michigan’s offense had already decided the game. With methodical, grinding drives, the Wolverines had broken Nebraska’s defense. And in the process, they had silenced a crowd that had once been so loud that — according to graduate lineman Trevor Keegan — had caused him to line up incorrectly for his first play.
On the strength of an offensive outpouring, Michigan had completely overpowered Nebraska with all facets of its offense. By the time the Cornhuskers finally broke through to make the score 45-7, it didn’t matter — and there were very few of the once-raucous fans left to see it.