Michigan State made headlines early in the season for its offense averaging more than 50 points per game – and setting a school record for points through four games. On Saturday night, it was all about the defense, which held Nebraska’s potent offense in check for the greater part of the game.
Michigan State blanked the Huskers in the first half on its way to a 27-22 win at Spartan Stadium, but it became a lot closer at the end that it appeared it would be in the early going.
The Huskers scored three times in the fourth after Michigan State looked like it had pulled away. Trae Waynes sealed the game with his second interception of the game as Nebraska was in Michigan State territory with less than a minute in the game.
Early on it appeared Michigan State was ready to dominate the game, being the first team to hold Nebraska scoreless in the first half since Missouri did so in 2009. Ameer Abdullah had just 21 yards rushing on 13 attempts in the first half, while as a team Nebraska had 13 yards on 21 attempts. While the Spartans had three turnovers, the Michigan State defense stepped up, holding the Huskers to minus-1 and minus-4 yards following the first two, while forcing an Abdullah fumble after the third.
The offense jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead behind a pair of touchdown drives that took just 1:07 combined.
The game got off to a less than ideal start for Michigan State, as Cook’s first pass was intercepted on the second play of the game by Nebraska’s Randy Gregory after it hit off Vincent Valentine’s helmet. The Spartans’ defense forced a punt and a three-and-out and kept the Huskers off the board.
Michigan State got on the board first as Connor Cook hit wide receiver Tony Lippett down the sideline for a long score. After faking a handoff to the running back and wide receiver, Cook turned to look for Lippett, who ran a double move and found himself wide open. Cook dropped it on his fingertips and Lippett walked in for a 55-yard touchdown.
Trae Waynes recorded his first pick of the year later in the first quarter at the Michigan State 37, turning back to reel in a pass intended for Nebraska’s Kenny Bell. The Spartans’ following drive stalled at the Nebraska 45 as Jeremy Langford failed to pick up a first down on third-and-2, but Mike Sadler’s punt was downed at the 1-yard line by Kurtis Drummond.
The defense forced a quick three-and-out and a Nebraska punt, which MacGarrett Kings ran back 19 yards with a couple nifty moves to set up the Spartans at the Nebraska 31-yard line.
On the next play, Langford broke off tackle, getting through a tackle near the line of scrimmage and making the final Nebraska defender miss. He tiptoed down the sideline and dove into the end zone for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 13:48 to go in the first half.
Langford fumbled on the next drive on just the second play, as Nebraska’s Valentine forced the ball out and Byerson Cockrell recovered at the MSU 41.
Nebraska got going a little before a personal foul set the Huskers back to the MSU 45-yard line, where MSU forced a punt, but Kings fumbled it at the MSU 16 and it was recovered by Josh Faulkenberry at the MSU 24.
Nebraska got into the red zone for the first time, going down to the MSU 8 before Ed Davis forced Abdullah to fumble out of the wildcat. Shilique Calhoun picked it up and ran for 39 yards to the MSU 45. The drive ended with a 28-yard Michael Geiger field goal, giving the Spartans a 17-0 lead with 4:33 left in the half.
The Spartans looked primed to get more points before the half as it took a timeout with 52 seconds left. Another timeout later, the Spartans picked up the first down behind Langford, but Jack Allen was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the Spartans could not score before the half.
The second half opened with much of the same for Michigan State’s defense as Nebraska got the ball first. The Huskers went backward for minus-6 yards on their first drive.
Michigan State gained just five yards on three plays before Geiger hit a 27-yard field goal to increase the lead to 20-0.
The Huskers put their best drive together in the third quarter as Armstrong connected with Jordan Westerkamp three times for 47 yards, leading them to the MSU 14. An incompletion, a Taiwan Jones sack, a false start and another incompletion later, the Huskers got on the board with a 40-yard field goal from Drew Brown with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
Lippett got his second touchdown of the day as Cook handed off to Keith Mumphery, who pitched it to Lippett on a double reverse and he ran untouched into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown run and a 27-3 lead.
Nebraska looked like it had a big play on its next play as Armstrong had Westerkamp open down field, but the pass was dropped.
The Huskers got in the end zone for the first time with 12:49 left in the game as Abdullah capped a drive that opened with a 33-yard punt return from De’Mornay Pierson-El. The two-point conversion attempt was no good and Michigan State held on to a 27-9 lead.
Abdullah scored his second touchdown of the day with 4:10 left on one-yard touchdown run. The drive was extended after a possible pixk-6 went through Drummond’s hands and instead Westerkamp reeled it in for a 41-yard gain.
Nebraska forced a quick three-and-out as the Spartans could not convert on a third-and-2 behind Langford. Sadler’s punt was taken to the house by Pierson-El to make it 27-22 with 3:22 left. The two-point conversion attempt was no good as Armstrong optioned to Abdullah.
Drummond recovered Nebraska’s onside kick attempt, but with 1:07 left, Michael Geiger’s 37-yard field goal attempt hit the upright and the cross bar, giving Nebraska another chance.
A 43-yard pass from Armstrong to wide receiver Alonzo Moore put the Huskers at the Michigan State 37-yard line and the Spartans took a timeout with 42 seconds left. Waynes’ interception then sealed the win for Michigan State.