LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska took control of the Big Ten Legends Division, and all Denard Robinson could do was watch.
Ameer Abdullah ran for 101 yards and a touchdown, and Nebraska’s defense dominated after Robinson left with an injury late in the first half in a 23-9 victory over No. 20 Michigan on Saturday night.
The Huskers (6-2, 3-1) moved into a first-place tie with Michigan in the Legends but own the tiebreaker.
The Wolverines’ chances of overtaking the Huskers and getting to the conference championship game could hinge on how their star quarterback responds to an elbow injury that knocked him out of the game.
Three weeks after a humiliating 25-point loss at Ohio State, the Huskers are playing some of their best football heading into next week’s game at Michigan State.
“Every game we win from here on out raises the stakes more and more,” offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said. “Roll this into next week and they keep getting more and more big.”
The right-handed Robinson aggravated an injury in his throwing elbow late in the first half. He spent the second half on the sideline in an overcoat watching as freshman backup Russell Bellomy threw three interceptions.
Michigan (5-3, 3-1) generated a season-low 188 yards during its first visit to Memorial Stadium since 1911. The Wolverines had 52 in the second half.
“This was a big step for us,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “Just like I told the team, you win and the season goes on and it takes you higher and higher.”
Asked about being in the driver’s seat in the division, Pelini said, “I don’t buy into any of that.”
It was the second straight game Michigan failed to score a touchdown.
“When you count on field goals and get into the red zone and don’t score (touchdowns), that will hurt you in a big game. That’s what happened,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
Taylor Martinez was 14 of 24 for 166 yards with an interception for the Huskers. Bellomy was 3 of 16 for 38 yards.
Robinson has accounted for two-thirds of Michigan’s offensive production this season, and the Wolverines were lost without him. Hoke said Robinson aggravated the nerve injury when he was tackled at the Nebraska 8 late in the first half.
“When he hit it, he hit it the wrong way,” Hoke said.
Hoke gave no additional details on Robinson’s status.
Bellomy was off target on his first 10 passes, and two of his interceptions resulted in 10 Nebraska points. Daimion Stafford picked off his underthrown ball early in the fourth to set up Abdullah’s 12-yard touchdown run for a 23-9 lead.
Abdullah, filling in for the injured Rex Burkhead, went over 100 yards for the fourth time this season.
“In the second half, especially late in the third quarter, we didn’t tackle well as a defense,” Hoke said. “When you don’t tackle well in a big game, it doesn’t go well.”
Brett Maher kicked field goals of 19, 51 and 31 yards, with his last one putting Nebraska up 16-6 in the third quarter.
Michigan got within 16-9 late in the third quarter on Brenan Gibbons’ 38-yard field goal. The Wolverines moved 58 yards on the series, but 45 of them were the result of Nebraska penalties.
Josh Mitchell was called for a high hit on Roy Roundtree, the Nebraska bench was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and Andrew Green interfered with Roundtree on a pass to the end zone.
The Huskers were penalized eight times for 104 yards.
Nebraska led 7-6 after a defense-dominated first half.
The Huskers broke through for a touchdown early in the second quarter, with Martinez needing only a couple minutes to move his team 72 yards. Nebraska had netted just 8 rushing yards on its first six runs, so offensive coordinator Tim Beck called on Martinez to pass on five of the six plays.
He hit Ben Cotton for 15 yards, Jamal Turner for 12, Quincy Enunwa for 5 and Stephen Osborne for 19 before going downfield to Kenny Bell. Bell almost stopped while waiting for the ball to arrive along the sideline, then he turned and dived for the pylon to finish the 32-yard touchdown.
Gibbons finished the next two Michigan drives with field goals of 52 and 24 yards to make it a one-point game.
Robinson ran for 46 yards on 10 carries and completed 6 of 11 passes for 55 yards before he got hurt.
The game was billed as the second meeting ever between quarterbacks who each have 5,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing in their careers. The first such game matched Texas’ Vince Young against Missouri’s Brad Smith in 2005.
The Huskers have won 11 straight night games at Memorial Stadium and are 37-5 under the lights in Lincoln since 1986.
Nebraska commemorated the 50th anniversary of its NCAA-record sellout streak. Saturday’s game was the 323rd in a row.
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