The Michigan football team has been no stranger to big-time games in big-time venues this season.
The year kicked off with a primetime affair in Cowboys Stadium against Alabama, and the Wolverines played at night three weeks later at hallowed Notre Dame Stadium. This week, they find themselves in yet another hyped matchup with their trip to play a night game at Nebraska.
But the matchup against the Cornhuskers promises to be a different animal for Michigan. Cowboys Stadium was raucous, but the crowd was split pretty evenly between fans of the two teams. Notre Dame Stadium was packed, but plenty of Wolverine fans made the trip, and supporters of the Fighting Irish aren’t exactly a rowdy bunch.
You can expect that Nebraska fans will make this game more of a headache for Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s team. They’re responsible for making Memorial Stadium one of the loudest in college football, and also one of the most difficult places to play.
The mass of Cornhusker partisans at Nebraska home games is referred to as the Sea of Red, and the Wolverines are aware of what they’re in for — even though the team hasn’t played in Lincoln since 1911, which was 12 years before Memorial Stadium was built.
“I really can’t wait, and as a team we can’t wait,” said redshirt junior safety Thomas Gordon. “I’ve never been to Nebraska before. You hear a lot of stories about the Sea of Red at Nebraska and things like that and you just got to look forward to going into environments like that when it’s going to be real hostile.”
Gordon’s excitement should be tempered, perhaps, by the fact that Michigan has come up empty in the two road night games it has already played this season.
The safety said that those two games will help the Wolverines deal with the difficulties they’ll surely face this Saturday, and Hoke agreed — he didn’t sound too worried in saying that his team is “used to” such experiences and environments by now.
But that certainly doesn’t mean it’ll be easy for Michigan to play with poise come Saturday.
“Whether we’re home or away, we try not to let the crowd affect us too much, I think,” said fifth-year senior center Elliott Mealer. “It’s going to be fun to experience, but at the same time, we’re going to have to go there and play Michigan football.”
END OF GAME ISSUES: After redshirt junior kicker Brendan Gibbons kicked the game-winning field goal on Saturday against Michigan State, the Wolverines were understandably excited.
But they were a bit too excited. The ensuing jubilation saw a large group of players come partway onto the field to celebrate, even though there were still five seconds remaining in the game.
That drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, forcing Michigan to kick off from its own 20-yard line.
It didn’t end up affecting the outcome, thanks to an excellent squib kick by sophomore Matt Wile, but things could have gone horribly wrong. Hoke said that the penalty was the first thing he addressed when the team met on Sunday.
“You love the enthusiasm for the game of football, and they’ve worked hard since last January, and that all goes through it, but that could have been very costly,” Hoke said. “Could have been one of those dumb penalties.”
The fact that the Wolverines did still win obscured another mini-controversy from their final drive.
After senior quarterback Denard Robinson ran for two yards and a first down with 42 seconds remaining in the game, the officials decided to review the spot. But 10 seconds ran off before they stopped play to do the review, which ended in confirmation of the spot.
As it was, Michigan was essentially punished for the officials’ lack of haste in deciding to make a review. Hoke said he’s waiting to hear back from Big Ten Director of Officiating Bill Carollo about whether the clock should have been reset to 42 seconds.
NOTES: Sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor left Saturday’s game in the fourth quarter after injuring what appeared to be his arm, but Hoke reiterated on Monday that he thinks Taylor will play against Nebraska. If Taylor can’t go, one player of the little-used pair of sophomore Delonte Hollowell and freshman Terry Richardson would be forced into action with junior Courtney Avery’s likely ascendance to the starting lineup.
Robinson made a surprise appearance on Michigan’s kick return team for the opening kickoff of the second half on Saturday. Hoke refused to offer any details about the move, other than to say that Robinson was there to “maybe return a kickoff” and that “it’s just a good plan.”