LINCOLN — Coaches wanted to hand out the Blackshirts last week after Nebraska’s 29-28 road win at Northwestern.
Although Husker defenders covet the prized jerseys, to a player they said no.
There’s little doubt that Nebraska’s defense was the difference between a win and a loss against Michigan Saturday in Lincoln.
Husker defenders finally gave in after the 23-9 win as they were seen wearing the legendary jerseys in the locker room.
“I tried to give them the Blackshirts last week, but they didn’t want them,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said. “They said they didn’t earn it. That speaks to their character.”
Nebraska held Michigan to just 188 total yards, including only 52 in the second half, as Wolverine star quarterback Denard Robinson was knocked out of the game in the first half with an elbow injury.
Even with Robinson running the offense, Nebraska limited the Michigan attack to just 3.4 yards a play in the first half.
In last week’s win at Northwestern, Nebraska defenders dropped five interceptions. So that was an obvious point of emphasis this week in practice — and it showed.
NU picked off Michigan backup quarterback Russell Bellomy three times, on interceptions by Daimion Stafford, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and PJ Smith.
Smith returned an interception 53 yards to set up a key Brett Maher field goal to make it 10-6.
In addition, Nebraska linebackers were all over the field. Freshman linebacker David Santos led all defenders with 10 tackles, including six unassisted and one for a loss. Alonzo Whaley finished with eight stops and Sean Fisher had seven stops, including two tackles for a loss.
Fisher said when Robinson went down with the injury, not much changed for the Husker defense.
“We didn’t change anything from a defensive standpoint,” he said. “Tonight the defense as a whole played better. We emphasized not dropping picks and really focused on the details. We really didn’t talk about it on the sideline (when Robinson went out). But when he’s in there you notice he’s such a threat.”
Fisher said the Husker defense feels pretty good about accepting the Blackshirts this week.
“We played well against Northwestern, but we decided it was just one game,” he said.
Despite the three interceptions, Nebraska is minus-8 in the turnover battle for the season, including minus-6 in Big Ten play. The Nebraska defense didn’t allow Michigan to score on its two takeaways.
Nebraska’s play on defense changed noticeably when Robinson left the game, as NU sent a lot more pressure at the quarterback.
At one point in the first half, Robinson had what seemed like all day to throw, as Nebraska couldn’t generate a pass rush with three down linemen.
Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said Robinson’s absence did change the play calling on defense, allowing NU to send more pressure on an inexperienced quarterback.
“When he’s in the game, you’re just holding on,” Kaczenski said. “They have so many weapons. Obviously, it’s a little relief when he comes out.”