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Nebraska vs. Michigan, 10.27.2012

Nebraska's Will Compton moves in as Sean Fisher trips up Michigan's Fitzgerald Toussaint in the first quarter at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012.

John Papuchis admits he was momentarily mad at the equipment manager.

That was Tuesday. This was the day Husker defensive players were supposed to receive their coveted Blackshirts.

But when Nebraska's defensive coordinator walked onto the field, none of the starters were dressed in black.

"To be honest, I was a little bit shocked," Papuchis said.

But the coach soon realized what had happened. This was no error by the equipment manager. The players didn't want the jerseys. Not yet.

"We don't want them until we beat Michigan," they told him.

Patience pays.

And when the Huskers did in fact beat Michigan on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, no Nebraska defensive players were about to turn down their blackshirts.

"Everybody was wearing them in the locker room," senior linebacker Sean Fisher said after Nebraska's 23-9 win.

Shoot, defensive end Eric Martin wore his black practice jersey to a postgame interview.

Well deserved, Bo Pelini thought.

"It shows the character of our kids and the type of standards that they have," Pelini said. "They didn't want them last week. They said they hadn't earned them. ... I think they earned them."

No arguments.

Nebraska's defense was in control from start to finish, playing well against Michigan's playmaking quarterback Denard Robinson, and then completely owning the game after Robinson left with a nerve injury on his right arm.

The Huskers led 7-3 when Robinson headed to the sideline with Michigan driving, the ball at the Husker 7-yard line with 3:41 left in the first half.

His replacement, redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy, never had a chance.

"We only gave up like 35 yards in the second half," Papuchis said. "And I know everyone will say, 'Well, Denard Robinson wasn't there.' But for the record, we were still winning when he was."

Nebraska very well might have won Robinson or no Robinson, but it was clear Bellomy was not up to the challenge.

The young quarterback was 3-of-16 passing, and threw three interceptions that led to 10 Nebraska points.

"It didn't matter who was their quarterback, because we were going to try to go after him anyway," said senior safety P.J. Smith, who had one of NU's interceptions.

That said, Pelini admitted he "called some things in the second half that we didn't call a lot during the week," not hesitating to bring the heat on a backup quarterback.

Nebraska's offense, meanwhile, was workmanlike, having to scrap for yards against a Michigan defense that came into the game ranked 10th nationally.

"Inconsistent," Pelini said of that side of the ball. "I thought we left some points out there. ... At times we looked really good. At times we had some missed opportunities. I think we can play better."

But when it came time to step up after Daimion Stafford's interception at the Michigan 47, the Husker offense answered the bell.

Three plays later, Ameer Abdullah scored from 12 yards to make it 23-9.

Michigan wasn't coming back from that with Robinson on the sideline. Before his injury, the Wolverines had 89 rushing yards. After he left, they had just 6 more.

By game's end, Nebraska held a total yardage advantage of 326-188.

Yes, that's just 188 yards from Michigan three weeks after Nebraska was torched for 8 yards a play and 63 points by Ohio State.

"It's nothing magical," Pelini said of the defensive jump. "At the end of the day, we didn't do anything fancy. We executed. We were in the right spots. We played good team defense. That's what it takes."

It was a high-stakes game for the Huskers, who knew their dreams of winning the Big Ten were almost all but crushed if they lost Saturday.

With so much on the line, Papuchis admits he struggled in how to approach this game with players early in the week.

“You can’t be so short-sighted as a coach to tell them that, ‘Hey, if you don’t win, it’s over. That’s crazy,'" Papuchis said. "But I did explain to them in a very clear way what was a stake. ... This is the week you have to shove all your chips in the table and invest all the way from Monday to Saturday to winning the game, because we didn’t want to have any regrets come Saturday night and Sunday morning."

There will be none now. The Huskers now head into their final four games as the lead pony in the Legends Division race.

It will be back to the grind Monday, with a trip to Michigan State awaiting.

But on this night, it was time for Husker defenders to admire how they looked in black.

"We shut down Michigan and now we deserve to get them," Smith said. "That was our whole mind frame, to just shut them down."

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