Josh Metellus knew it was over after the first series.
Already up a touchdown, the junior safety noticed something askew: Nebraska had lost its intensity. He could see it in the way the Cornhuskers’ receivers ran their routes and how he got blocked.
“After the first series when they went back out there, you knew they wanted to give up,” Metellus said. “You could just see it in their eyes. It’s something you feel, it’s not anything I can put into words.”
Metellus was proven right as No. 19 Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 3-1 overall) drubbed Nebraska (0-1, 0-3), 56-10, to cruise through its Big Ten opener. The only sliver of hope the Cornhuskers had Saturday dwindled within seconds.
After a 32-yard pass on the game’s second play, quarterback Adrian Martinez looked to have a receiver open on a slant. But the paw of fifth-year senior defensive tackle Lawrence Marshall deflected the pass into Metellus’ arms for his second interception in as many weeks.
“(Marshall) tipping that ball just made a bad play into a good play,” Metellus said.
On the ensuing drive, redshirt junior running back Karan Higdon scampered 46 yards to set up Michigan’s first touchdown — a punch-in score for Ben Mason. It was one of three touchdowns for the sophomore fullback, who also lined up as tailback in the absence of junior Chris Evans.
It was at that point — just one score in — that Metellus noticed the game had changed.
“We knew they didn’t want to play,” Metellus said. “You could just tell the intensity was kind of flat. It just gives you that extra fuel like, ‘You just made somebody not want to play anymore.’ ”
Nebraska looked like they didn’t indeed. After a quick three-and-out, Higdon found an enormous hole to score untouched from 44 yards and extend the Wolverines’ lead to 14-0. Returning from injury, Higdon finished with 136 yards on 12 attempts — all in the first half. His success made for another light day for junior quarterback Shea Patterson, who was again highly-accurate with 120 yards on 15-of-22 passing.
“Karan, I mean, he was ready to go,” said coach Jim Harbaugh. “He was ready to play, you could see it from really before the game. It was great to have him back.”
Nebraska was out-played on offense, too.
Michigan’s defensive line was so dominant that Martinez seldom had a chance to make a play. The Wolverines collected four sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss, adding up to 65 yards lost on those plays. Michigan domineered the Cornhuskers physically and schematically.
“The discipline (by the defense) in the run game was evident today,” Harbaugh said. “They didn’t run by the quarterback, they didn’t let the quarterback get out scrambling and the rush lanes were really condensed. And they were on the quarterback fast. I was good to see all those guys play well up front.”
Zach Gentry put the game further out of reach during the second quarter. After a five-yard touchdown catch, the redshirt junior tight end put his palms up in subdued celebration and stared blankly into the crowd. He was seemingly asking the question on everyone’s mind: “It’s this easy?”
It was easy because the Cornhuskers have a litany of issues. That much is wildly apparent a month into the Scott Frost era. But the Wolverines dominated from start to finish nonetheless, and that has them feeling confident after three straight wins.
“It’s starting to feel like (2016),” said junior guard Ben Bredeson. “There’s a big maturity jump and people are starting to feel it. … We want to be that intimidating team that we were in ’16. When we rolled down the tunnel, people would fear us. So we’re getting back to that stature.”