ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Pick your poison: There was Michigan’s punt return for a touchdown, Nebraska’s fumbled punt return and three penalties on special teams. Any one of these mistakes could have decided the game, but together, they resulted in a Michigan blowout 56-10 Saturday.
Nebraska’s special teams players said after the game that they have plenty to work on in practice this week. Huskers coach Scott Frost feels the same way.
“We can’t keep kicking the ball right down the middle of the field 50 yards and giving athletes like they had back deep a chance to return it,” Frost said. “We’ve got to be able to field a punt when it’s bouncing on the ground and not muff it and give it to them. We can’t have penalties.”
The Huskers had breakdowns and miscues in every facet of the game in Ann Arbor, but the special-teams mistakes seemed to frustrate Frost the most.
“I can’t tell you how much we’ve been preaching that and working on it,” he said. “If it’s not being done by now, either guys can’t do it or won’t do it, and we’re going to keep working to get the best guys we have on the field for those jobs.”
With the Huskers looking to have their best field position of the game, Tyjon Lindsey tried to field a bouncing punt on the Nebraska 35-yard line but fumbled after he was hit. The Wolverines recovered with one second left in the first quarter. Michigan’s drive ended with a 50-yard field goal, giving the Wolverines a 23-0 lead at the beginning of the second quarter.
Halftime didn’t fix the Huskers special-teams problems. Wolverines receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones fielded a punt in Michigan territory and returned it 60 yards to put the Wolverines up 46-0 with 9:01 remaining in the third quarter. Peoples-Jones' physicality on and off the ball gave Nebraska’s secondary fits all afternoon, but on the punt return, the Huskers barely touched him.
As if the fumbled punt and punt return weren’t enough, Nebraska’s special teams also managed three penalties against the Wolverines, bringing their total to nine on the season.
Nebraska cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said it’s not one big thing that dooms the special teams to repeated mistakes. It’s the little mistakes, over and over. Running back Wyatt Mazour agreed.
“We’re going to continue working on the little things and try to get this thing turned around,” Mazour said. “It’s not a personnel thing. We got to execute and have everybody focused on the details of everything.”