LINCOLN, Neb. -- The short-term swagger is gone.
After Saturday’s 23-9 loss at Nebraska, so are the sure things for the Michigan football team: the lock for a bowl game. An inside track on a berth in the Big Ten Conference championship game. Another week in the Associated Press top 25 poll and the USA Today coaches poll.
One more glaring entity is in question for the Wolverines: the presence of dynamic starting quarterback.
Injured late in the first half when he was hit completing a 7-yard run, Denard Robinson stood on the Wolverines’ sideline at Memorial Stadium in a throwback Michigan jacket, wearing his helmet as back-up quarterback Russell Bellomy struggled to steer Michigan’s offense in the second half.
ESPN reported that Robinson injured a nerve in the elbow of his throwing arm at the end of the first half, which impacted his ability to grip the ball. Robinson initially suffered two weeks ago in a 45-0 win over Illinois, which he said was “a funny bone, nothing serious.”
“It was just a boo-boo,” Robinson said after the win over the Illini.
Saturday night, neither Robinson nor Bellomy was made available to the media following the loss to the Huskers, but Michigan coach Brady Hoke also said said it was a nerve issue that forced Robinson out of the game.
"He's got that nerve, when he gets hit the wrong way, it gets hit, it's hard," Hoke said. "The difference (from last week against Illinois) is that he didn't come back."
Despite throwing on the sideline at one point in the game, Robinson didn’t get better as the game progressed - and as Nebraska took control. However, Hoke said there was no concern Robinson wouldn't be available next week against Minnesota.
"He just couldn't grip the ball well enough," Hoke said. "He couldn't throw the ball well enough.
"If he'd progressed a little further, he would have played there at the end, but it just wasn't happening."
And despite Bellomy’s less-than-stellar performance in his first substantial playing time - the redshirt freshman finished 3 of 16 passing for 38 yards and was intercepted three times - Hoke also said there was no thought of pulling Bellomy.
Kenny Bell’s 32-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez (14 for 24 passing for 166 yards and a touchdown, one interception) helped Nebraska to a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter, and Brendan Gibbons kicked two of his three field goals to cut Nebraska’s lead to 7-6 with 2:38 left in the half.
But Gibbons’ second field goal ended the drive in which Michigan (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten) lost Robinson, who was hit taking the ball down to the Nebraska 8 instead of opting to go out of bounds.
Bellomy replaced Robinson for the next three plays of the drive, rushing for a yard but unable to thread two passes to receivers, forcing the Wolverines to kick a field goal.
Nebraska (6-2, 3-1) stretched its lead to 16-6 on Brett Maher’s three field goals, including a 51-yard kick, but after Gibbons brought Michigan back within seven, Ameer Abdullah scored less than five minutes into the fourth quarter to give the Huskers a 14-point lead.
“We were just going to have to weather the storm and make plays,” said Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs, who finished with five tackles. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do enough of that. We gave up big plays. We didn’t tackle well, and if you do that, then you’re not going to play very good defense.”
While the Wolverines lamented their losses, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini praised his team’s defensive efforts, as the Huskers held Michigan to 14 yards rushing in the second half.
“I thought it was a good team effort (on defense),” said Pelini, whose team pulls into a tie with Michigan for first place in the Legends Division. “I thought we played good front to back. That’s a good offense that stressed you in a lot of different ways. Even when Denard was in there, I thought we did a good job of keeping them bottled up.”
But Pelini also acknowledged Michigan’s most notable absence.
“I wish Denard well,” Pelini said. “I got a chance to meet him at media day [in July in Chicago]. I hope he’s OK, because he’s not only a heck of a football player, he’s a class individual.”
NOTES: Michigan will face Minnesota at noon Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. … Hoke said he expects defensive end Frank Clark to make next week’s trip to Minnesota with the Wolverines. Clark did not travel to Nebraska because of an ankle injury.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.