LINCOLN — When the Michigan football team took a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter at Wisconsin last week, the Wolverines’ sideline joined the party for the Badgers’ famed “Jump Around” tradition. It set the tone from an energy standpoint, and Michigan cruised to a 38-17 win thereafter.
Against Nebraska (3-4 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) on Saturday night, the ninth-ranked Wolverines’ situation from a week ago was flipped on its head. Rather than winning big, they had just blown a double-digit lead in the third quarter.
This time, the momentum wasn’t on Michigan’s side. Memorial Stadium knew it. But as the stadium lights dimmed, replaced by a red glow and cell phones while ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” blared, the Wolverines (6-0, 3-0) once again partook in the dance party. Then they went out and made the key plays necessary to secure a crucial 32-29 comeback win.
“Keep the same energy when you get punched in the mouth,” junior defensive tackle Mazi Smith said. “Everybody’s got a plan until you get punched in the mouth. But when we get punched, we’ve still got that plan. And there’s still another quarter to play.”
Over the last two weeks, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has lauded his team for not flinching in the face of adversity. It’s become a team mantra of sorts. Players have picked up on it, too, as junior quarterback Cade McNamara, senior running back Hassan Haskins and fifth-year safety Brad Hawkins all alluded to it after the game.
Hawkins, in particular, has been around Michigan teams that have flinched in past years. But through the first five weeks of his final season, this year’s Wolverines had no reason to unravel. By Saturday night, they were the only Power Five team in the country that hadn’t trailed yet in 2021.
Until they weren’t.
After leading 13-0 at the half, Michigan was outscored 22-6 during an underwhelming third quarter. That didn’t stop the Wolverines from dancing their way into the fourth quarter the same as last week, though.
“We didn’t flinch,” Hawkins said. “We stayed composed throughout the whole game. We knew adversity was going to hit. It hit, and we didn’t flinch. I love this team, I love this defense and I love that we’re fighters. We went out there, we fought today and we didn’t flinch.”
Added Harbaugh: “Not to flinch, that’s what I’m talking about — that kind of grit, that kind of determination not to be denied. Just staying after it until you make one more better, sensational, incredible play than they do.”
As Michigan’s defense struggled to stop Nebraska’s option offense, McNamara appeared especially unfazed. A game that began as a slugfest evolved into a shootout, and the junior quarterback was more than ready for it. He led a 10-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to give the Wolverines’ another possession of breathing room after the Cornhuskers got on the board.
And when Michigan began trailing, McNamara spearheaded three consecutive scoring drives — a touchdown and two field goals — to help the Wolverines escape victorious. Through the bumpy second half, he overcame his first career interception and maintained the poise of a veteran rather than a quarterback making his second-ever start in front of opposing fans.
All told, McNamara completed 22 of his 38 pass attempts for 255 yards. What won’t show up in a box score, however, is the leadership he brought to the table.
“The way he’s seeing the field, just cold-blooded back there in the pocket,” Harbaugh said. “You know someone’s about to hit you and you’re still throwing it to the right spot. Not flinching, that says a lot.”
McNamara wasn’t the only Wolverine who didn’t flinch on Saturday night. In the process, Michigan showed it’s more than just talk. For proof, look no further than the sideline before the fourth quarter.
“That was a huge scenario for our team to be in,” McNamara said. “We’re not going to blow everyone out. This game showed a lot.”