With backup quarterback Mitch Leidner waiting on the sidelines, this will be another big test for Nelson, and he’ll be taking it in front of about 110,000 screaming Michigan fans. The Wolverines are 17-0 at home in Hoke’s three seasons.
“I think we’ve got to go out and remember that we’re playing the game we love,” Nelson said. “We’ve got to just be able to go out there and play loose and just react and not tense up so much. And that’s where we were at last Saturday [against Iowa].”
Kill said in all the pregame meetings and walkthrough sessions last week, the players seemed sharp and ready. But once kickoff came, the coaches quickly sensed how badly players were pressing.
Nelson missed a few passes and was hesitant to keep the ball on the read option, which he and Leidner had run so successfully in the first four games. Another example of nerves came from talented outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. He froze up when Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock scrambled for a second-quarter touchdown run.
By the end of the game, the Gophers knew they hadn’t played like themselves. Kill said the players barely said a word in the locker room afterward, which he took as a good sign, knowing how much they cared.
Because it’s an emotional game played by young adults, college football can feature big swings. West Virginia got blown out by Maryland 37-0 two weeks ago before storming back last Saturday to upset then-No. 11 Oklahoma State 30-21.
“It’s like anything in life — sometimes it’s about how you handle adversity,” Kill said. “You’re in a Big Ten schedule, and you’re going to have some good things that happen to you, and you’re going to have some bad. It’s how you deal with it.”