Bo Has the Last Laugh as Nebraska Fumbles, Never Recovers, 27-23
It finally happened for Bo Schembechler. After three straight losses, his Michigan football team finally won a bowl game and Bo got a chance to be a gracious winner.
Almost. Who could blame Schembechler for taking a small swipe at national sportswriters who had turned up their noses at Michigan before the season?
Who can blame the sports writers? Michigan was 6-6 last season, and Schembechler’s bowl record was 2-10.
Out with the old news and in with the new--Schembechler’s scrappy Michigan team beat Nebraska, 27-23, Wednesday in the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl in front of 72,454 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.
It was such an impressive win, Bo couldn’t help saying “I told you so” after the game.
“This was a great win, I don’t get many of them, as you know,” Schembechler said, wearing his traditional “M” cap and dark-tinted glasses.
“At the beginning of the season, we were picked as a long-shot team. We weren’t even picked in our conference. My only disappointment was we didn’t win the title. (Iowa won the Big Ten title.)
“It’s a tribute to this team. We came back.”
There was almost as much adversity in Wednesday’s game as was packed into the whole season.
The Wolverines (10-1-1) were in a position they had been in only once before during the season: They were behind at halftime. With Nebraska holding onto a 14-3 lead at the half, it appeared as if the stingy Michigan defense, which had allowed only 6.8 points per game, was going to be embarrassed by the ground-gaining Nebraska offense.
But the Wolverines scored 24 points in the third quarter, thanks to timely (depending on whose side you were on) Nebraska turnovers. Those turnovers came courtesy of a hard-hitting Michigan defense.
Jim Skow, a Nebraska defensive tackle, perhaps said it best. “Our offense just made too many mistakes for us to win the game.”
That pretty much summed it up.
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne added: “The first seven or eight minutes of the third quarter just killed us.”
Yes, and Nebraska gave Michigan the gun.
Doug DuBose, whose shoulder injury had made him a questionable starter, carried on a draw play 50 seconds into the second half. He fumbled, with an assist to teammate Tom Rathman.
“I was coming up the field and Rathman was coming back to block one of his guys--he hit my hand,” DuBose said.
Jeff Akers of Michigan recovered. Nebraska never did.
Jamie Morris twisted off tackle for 19 yards to set up the first Wolverine touchdown, which came with 2:03 gone in the third quarter.
Morris is the 5-6 running back who first caught the eye of a Michigan recruiter in high school. The Michigan assistant was at a prep game and saw a pile of players moving--Morris was under the pile.
Morris runs with much the same style as his brother, Joe Morris of the New York Giants. That is to say the Morrises run through and around the biggest of defensive linemen. Morris, named the offensive player of the game, gained 156 yards in 22 carries.
Gerald White, Michigan’s fullback, dived over from the one-yard-line, and the extra point made it 14-10, Nebraska.
On Nebraska’s next possession, quarterback McCathorn Clayton fumbled, and Mark Messner recovered for Michigan. Messner was named the game’s outstanding defensive player.
Runs of 18 yards by Morris and 19 by White set up quarterback Jim Harbaugh for a one-yard keeper with 10:43 left in the quarter. With the extra point, Michigan led, 17-14.
Nebraska (9-3) got nowhere on its next series as the Michigan defense began to shut down the outside, and Cornhusker running backs had little luck rushing inside. Nebraska’s Dan Wingard set up to punt, but the kick was blocked by David Arnold, who fell on the ball at the Nebraska six.
Three running plays couldn’t get past a very tall Nebraska front and Michigan settled for a 19-yard field goal from Pat Moons. Suddenly, it was 20-14, and Nebraska looked dazed.
They played in a daze, too. After punting when their next series went flat, the Cornhuskers watched as Michigan marched 52 yards and Harbaugh pounded over from two yards for the score.
Schembechler did some quick addition on the sideline and ordered his team to go for the two-point conversion, reasoning that it would take more than two touchdowns for Nebraska to win.
Harbaugh completed a pass to split end Paul Jokisch, but the play was called back because of a holding penalty. This time, Schembechler sent Moons in for the kick. That made it 27-14.
It was panic time after that for Nebraska. Clayton fumbled again with 1:19 left in the third quarter. He was replaced in the fourth quarter by freshman Steve Taylor, the superior runner. Taylor, who had 76 yards rushing in just one quarter of play, scored Nebraska’s final touchdown from one yard out with 2:29 left in the game.
Nebraska’s defense kept Michigan on its four-yard line after the kickoff. On fourth down, Schembechler told punter Monte Robbins to fake the punt and take the safety, and give Nebraska the two points, so as not to risk a blocked punt, a runback for a touchdown or good field position.
The play went as Bo directed, and made the score 27-23. Michigan iced the game when cornerback Garland Rivers intercepted a Taylor pass in the end zone with 28 seconds left.
With Morris racking up early yardage, Michigan got on the scoreboard first. Morris’ 21-yard run, behind excellent blocking, helped set up Moons’ 42-yard field goal, making it 3-0 with 3:41 left in the first quarter.
DuBose set up Nebraska’s first touchdown. The 5-11 junior gained 13 yards around left end to give the Cornhuskers the ball on the Wolverines’ five-yard line at the end of the first quarter.
Rathman carried for no gain, then Clayton dropped back to pass on the next play, causing some confusion on the part of Michigan. Clayton found DuBose open in the right flat; DuBose was bumped by Brad Cochran but went into the end zone otherwise unimpeded.
Michigan could get nowhere after taking possession following the Nebraska touchdown and was faced with a fourth and one from the Nebraska 45.
Schembechler decided to go for the first down. Harbaugh was held to no gain.
All eyes darted to the Michigan sideline, to see how Schembechler would handle that little setback. Nothing much from Bo in the emotion department; hands on hips and eyes on the scoreboard.
Good place to look, it turned out, because Nebraska was lighting it up again. DuBose took a pitchout around right end for a 13-yard gain to get the drive started. Four plays later, from the Michigan 26, Rathman ran for 15 yards, and only Doug Mallory’s tripping tackle at the 11 saved a touchdown.
Not that it mattered. DuBose took yet another pitchout in from the three, Dale Klein’s extra point was good, giving Nebraska a seemingly commanding 14-3 lead at the half.
A lead that evaporated as swiftly as Nebraska’s offense had done in the second half.