It was like old times for the University of Michigan football team Saturday afternoon at the Big House.
A ranked team, the fourth-winningest program in NCAA history, visited Michigan and the Wolverines scored an overwhelmingly easy 45-17 victory. Bo Schembechler would’ve been proud.
The Wolverines, ranked No. 20, knocked off No. 17 Nebraska to improve to 9-2 with a chance to go 10-2 and perhaps qualify for a BCS bowl game.
It’s like the way it used to be for the nation’s winningest football program. In recent years, Michigan teams have faded late in the season, but right now Michigan has plenty of momentum.
And a name from Michigan’s bright football past agrees.
“I think Michigan made a statement today,” said Lloyd Carr,a legendary Michigan coach who was honored before the game for being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Carr led Michigan to a national championship in 1997, ironically, a co-national championship with Nebraska.
“Right now this Michigan team is everything you want it to be,” said Carr.
It has been a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Brady Hoke, after the Wolverines finished 6-6 last year and was beaten badly in its final three games of the season.
On Saturday Michigan outgained the Cornhuskers in yards, 418-260 and in possession time the Wolverines had the ball for 41 minutes 13 seconds to just 18:47 for the visitors.
“It’s the best we’ve played in all three phases (offense, defense and special teams) all year,” said Hoke.
Special teams had been painful for Michigan under previous head coach Rich Rodriguez but on Saturday, the Wolverines blocked a punt, forced two fumbles on kickoff returns and place kicker Brandon Gibbons had his career-longest field goal, 42 yards. Michigan also ran a successful fake punt on fourth down.
“The coach challenged us on special teams,” said wide receiver Martavious Odoms. “It’s just as important as any other part of the game.”
Odoms caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson in the fourth quarter that Hoke called, “the best deep ball I’ve ever seen Denard throw.”
Robinson threw for two touchdowns for 180 yards and ran for two scores and 100 yards on 23 carries. With his two touchdown passes, he tied Michigan legend Tom Brady with 35 in his Michigan career, seventh on the school’s all-time list (Chad Henne is No. 1 with 87).
“I didn’t know that,” Robinson told the media after the game. “Records don’t mean a lot to me.”
But playing well at the end of the season certainly does. With six minutes to play, fans in the stands started to chant, “beat OHIO,” as the game was winding down.
“It didn’t surprise me,” said Odoms. “We were expecting it.”
Michigan closes the regular season out against the Buckeyes next Saturday and Ohio State has won seven straight in the rivalry. Hoke said last January when he was hired in Ann Arbor that beating the Buckeyes is a priority.
“I’m excited about playing them,” was all he could say after the contest.
Michigan is 7-0 at home this season. The Wolverines were led by running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who ran for 149 yards and scored two touchdowns. Jordan Kovacs led Michigan’s defensive effort.
Michigan led Nebraska, 17-10 at halftime and the outscored the Huskers, 28-7 after intermission. Nebraska fumbled the opening kickoff of the third quarter and Michigan took it into score and never looked back.
“We’re going to enjoy this one but we all know what we have to do next week,” said Odoms.
Michigan will host Ohio State at noon on Saturday and the game will be broadcast on ABC or ESPN.
For more info: mgoblue, annarbor.com, espn