LINCOLN — Though none of Nebraska's defensive starters had wore a Blackshirt this season, when NU coaches offered to hand them out, the defenders politely declined.
They weren't rebuking tradition. They just didn't believe they'd quite reached the level necessary to carry on the fabled tradition.
“They gave us our Blackshirts this week, but we didn't want to take them,” defensive back Ciante Evans said. “We lost some confidence after the Ohio State game. As you see, we've regained our confidence over these past two weeks.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said waiting until they had another good performance on their résumé to begin wearing those Blackshirts shows the growing maturity this defensive corps is showing.
“I tried to give them to them last week and they didn't want them,” Pelini said. “They said they hadn't earned them. It shows the character of our kids and their standards.”
Those wins over Northwestern and Michigan not only have vaulted the Huskers to the top of the Big Ten's Legends Division standings, but the way the Huskers halted Michigan's offense in Saturday's 23-9 victory was enough for the players to finally accept their Blackshirts.
“We figured if we played well tonight we could show that we deserved 'em,” linebacker Sean Fisher said
Limiting the Wolverines to just 188 yards of total offense on 64 plays — less than three yards per play — was more than good enough. Of Michigan's 18 first downs, six of them came courtesy of NU penalties, so the 5-3 Wolverines only 'earned' 12 chances to keep playing.
“Let's shut down Michigan,” NU safety P.J. Smith said. “If we shut down Michigan, we deserve to get (a Blackshirt). Walk in the locker room and it was there (hanging in his locker).”
NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis said no disrespect was ever intended by the players when they turned them down last week.
“That was their decision,” Papuchis said. “I think great is their standard, it's a higher standard. I'm glad that's how they handled it.
“I'm sure there's going to be one or two old school people that are going to think that was disrespectful that they wouldn't want to take them, but that wasn't at all the intent. I think they just wanted to live up to the standard of the men that came before them.”
Big kicks are just part of Maher's job
Brett Maher understands that the most he can get from any field goal is three points, but the 51-yard rocket he kicked in the third quarter to put Nebraska ahead 13-6 still had fans buzzing as the Kearney senior headed back to the NU locker room at the end of the game.
After accepting a series of high-fives and congratulatory shouts from the fans, Maher said that field goal, the other two he kicked in the third quarter and a pair of punts that flipped the field on Michigan were all just part of what he's expected to do.
“Don't really get extra bonus points for that,” Maher said. “I knew I hit it good. I looked up, saw it was going down the middle and I actually didn't even watch it go the rest of the way through. I just went to celebrate with (holder) Jace (Dean).”
Maher employed a rugby style of punting that he had used just once in the previous seven games. During the week, he said Michigan didn't apply much pressure on punts, so coaches thought that approach might work.
“We were just giving them a different look,” Maher said. “We thought it was something we could be successful with this week and it ended up working out perfect.”
On his second punt of the first quarter, as Maher moved to his right, it appeared that there was enough room for him to take off and have a good shot at picking up the first down. He said there was nothing in the game plan this week to do that.
“Oh no,” Maher said. “We don't really have that in.”
Then Maher was reminded that he played quarterback in high school and he could execute a play like that.
“Yeah, I mean, we'll see,” Maher said with a smile.
Offensive performance disappoints Wolverines
To call the last eight quarters frustrating for the Michigan offense is an understatement.
Fourteen trips into opponent territory. Four inside the red zone. Zero touchdowns.
What exactly is the level of frustration?
“I mean, it's huge,” senior offensive lineman Patrick Omameh said. “We're not being productive. We've got to hit our blocks, we've got to move the line of scrimmage. It's something that none of us are proud of, but something we're definitely going to have to work on.”
The Wolverines got inside Nebraska's 36-yard line five times. They settled for four field-goal attempts and threw an interception in the end zone.
Omameh called it a lack of execution.
“We're not getting it done right now,” he said.
Michigan not giving up on winning Legends
Jordan Kovacs admits that Saturday's game was a big one in the Big Ten Legends Division.
But the junior safety isn't giving up on the rest of the season for the Wolverines.
Nebraska and Michigan now have 3-1 records in the division, with Saturday's win giving the Huskers the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But each has four games remaining, a fact not lost on Kovacs.
“It was a big game coming in,” he said. “Obviously it was a huge game. It's a tough loss. We've got to move on. And if we take care of business, we'll still be in it. We've just got to take it one game at a time starting next week with Minnesota.”
After the trip to Minnesota, Michigan is home for a pair of games before its season-finale against rival Ohio State.
NU-Michigan State set for 2:30 p.m.
Nebraska's game at Michigan State on Saturday is set for 2:30 p.m. and will be televised on ABC.
The game will be shown on ESPN2 in areas that do not receive it on their local ABC affiliate.