LINCOLN, Neb. — Matt Rhule entered Saturday with a great deal of optimism about what his team might have been able to do against the No. 2 team in the country.
Coming off two straight wins over Group of Five opponents, Rhule had said earlier in the week that Michigan was his model for the team he hopes to build at Nebraska. However, on Saturday, he learned just how far away the Huskers are from the Wolverines.
Michigan left no doubt from the opening kick that it was elite compared to its opponent. After the game, Rhule lamented how it went and said numerous positive things about the maize and blue. Omitting the questions he had specifically about his team, here’s everything Rhule said as it pertained to the Wolverines in his postgame press conference.
Obviously a disappointing day. Lot of credit to Michigan; they’re a tremendous football team. Really couldn’t stop them today. Methodical converting third downs in the run game. Get some fourth downs early. Some big plays. The early turnovers didn’t help. Offensively, you know, we have the drive got down there, had the fourth and one early to make it 14-7 we thought. Didn’t have that work out for us. Went down in the first drive in the second half and did not get points there. If it wasn’t for the late touchdown. I thought they were an excellent football team that played really well. We obviously weren’t good enough today and we’ve got a lot of work to do.
On the Michigan offense pushing the Nebraska defense around
I hate to use the term pushed around. Just because that’s a big term for me as a coach to say. I have to see it. I will say I heard a lot of today. We haven’t had a lot of mistakes. We had a lot of like, ‘Hey, this guy is supposed to slant and spill and he runs and he’s up the field.’ So certainly they controlled the line of scrimmage. I wouldn’t want that in any way but I felt there were a lot plays that hit today that were guys supposed to spill the ball. He does, the ball rips inside for a six for eight. I did not see us not being able to control the line of scrimmage to that level.
I thought it would be more of an even game in the run game. I have to be careful about being emotional in this moment. I have to go back and watch the tape. My history with these games is you hate these kinds of losses. They all count the same, but they hurt when you have that type of loss to go back and watch the tape. Make sure I deal in truth and see what I see. I was disappointed. I thought their quarterback made some excellent throws. Man-coverage, we were all over the guys. They made plays, and we had enough pass rush at times.
There were a lot of things defensively that didn’t go our way, starting with DeShon (Singleton) injured on the first play and Tommi (Hill) going over having to play full-time. A lot of things happened that we have to get corrected. The good news is we got to see probably the best run game and what it looked like and people probably will copy that. (Coach) Tony (White) and his guys have a lot of work to do to correct those things.
On Michigan stopping the fourth-and-1 play
No one has converted against them in 4 and 1, so we ran a quarterback sneak from the gun. I think Heinrich (Haarberg) panicked. I thought we knocked him off the ball, and he just ran his feet. I thought he was going to get it. I think he tried to jump a little bit, and that prevented him. That’s a situation in fourth down where he can reach the ball, too.
They’re excellent. They stopped Rutgers at fourth and one and fourth and two. They’re excellent short-yarders defense. There’s a reason they are put together the way they are. I thought we had a good play and knocked it back. This was a real growing day for Heinrich. I think the one third down he called the wrong play, we had a false start and a shift.
You guys have seen me very stoic when you guys ask me about him. It happens to a lot of quarterbacks. The first time you go out there, you’re playing and having fun. You’re having fun starting in Colorado and coming in against Northern Illinois. All of a sudden, people are talking about you, and you start trying to do a lot. And I think we coach him through that like ‘hey, be Heinrich, go out and be the guy who is out there having fun. I was happy to see him play throughout the game, but I thought it was an instance where he could’ve got it but I’ll look at the play.
Could Nebraska have matched Michigan's intensity?
I don’t want to sit here right now and say that our guys didn’t want to play hard. I don’t think that. I think that would be a lie about who they are and the team that they are. They are the No. 2 team in the nation. I kind of alluded to it the other day like we are the number one rush offense and rush defense. He was gonna run for 300 yards against us and send a message. I don’t know if it wasn’t intensity. I still think our guys are trying to figure out if they are good enough to play these teams. I feel us cutting loose and attacking them. That’s kind of where we have to get to. I address the older guys and the younger guys after the game. The younger guys will have to play against them again. There’s only one way to play and win and that’s to attack.
What Nebraska has to do to become like Michigan
I can’t answer that right now. They’re the No. 2 team in the country. We’re not in that conversation right now. To me, it’s just holistic. I’ve stood on the field at Baylor in 2017 – forgive me for talking about another school – and they were beating us 59-16 or something. They were throwing balls in the end zone and laughing at us. I told Charlie Brewer and all those guys ‘we’ll come back here and we’ll beat them.’ We beat them the next year and two years later, we beat them 45 to whatever.
We’re going to recruit. There were recruits there today. Hopefully they say ‘wow, I can really come make a difference.’ We’re going to develop. We’re going to keep coaching these guys. We’re going to coach these guys this week. They were in the same spot last year. They were 2-3 last year, right? They battled, they won some games. We’re going to have a chance to win games. The biggest difference is, I’m not going to get up here and make excuses. I’m not going to get up here and blame the players.
We’re going to recruit, coach, develop. We’re going to learn from this game. This game sucked. Pardon my language. This game stunk. But, at the same time, we play again Friday. That’s kind of the approach. It’s a methodical process. One step at a time. Again, I’ll probably watch the tape and see some things. I’ll see some young players out there playing and say ‘man, he’s going to be really good.’ And Tony (White) will make the corrections on defense and we’ll keep coming along as an offensive line and we’ll get there.