Saturday, November 3, 2012
Huskers escape Michigan State, smell roses
By Brian Bennett
Well, you can't say that this surprises you. Nebraska made another big comeback. Michigan State couldn't make a play to seal a close game at home.
That has pretty much been the story of both teams this season, and it was the narrative again in a wild 28-24 win by the Huskers in East Lansing, putting Bo Pelini's team in a great position to make the Big Ten championship game.
And it yet was another home heartbreaker for the Spartans, who have now lost four Big Ten games at home by a total of eight points.
Michigan State, which led 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, once again just couldn't close out. The Spartans punted on a fourth-and-2 in Nebraska territory, giving the Huskers the ball on their own 20 with 1:20 left. That's when Taylor Martinez worked his magic.
After a long pass on the first play of the drive, Martinez faced a fourth-and-10 from his own 42. Michigan State jumped offside, and Martinez hit Kyler Reed for a 38-yard gain. The play three plays later will be one they're talking about in East Lansing, Lincoln and Ann Arbor for some time.
Spartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard was called for pass interference in the end zone on wide receiver Kenny Bell. It looked like Dennard -- who had two big interceptions earlier in the game, including one inside the MSU 5 -- had pretty good coverage. But it set up Nebraska at the 5-yard line, and Martinez found Jamal Turner for the game-winning score with six seconds to play.
The PI didn't cost Michigan State the game. The Spartans caught a break earlier when Daimion Stafford was called for a late hit out of bounds on quarterback Andrew Maxwell after he was pushed into the play. That extended a Michigan State drive and led to a touchdown. Both teams were whistled for nine penalties each, totaling 172 yards. What cost the Spartans, again, was the inability to make one defensive stop late, which is ironic because the team's defense has been so good all season long.
And how about Martinez? He threw three interceptions and nearly had a disastrous fumble that Nebraska was fortunate to recover after the Huskers fell behind by 10 points. Yet he also ran for 205 yards and two scores and threw for two touchdowns, along with that clutch final drive. He's a spectacular player, and Nebraska has to live with his occasional looseness with the football.
This was a huge win for the Huskers, who remain undefeated in Legends Division play and 4-1 overall in the Big Ten. They're tied with Michigan atop the Legends but own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Their remaining schedule looks like this:
Next week: Penn State
Nov. 17: Minnesota
Nov. 23: at Iowa
The Penn State game won't be easy, but at least it's at home where the Huskers play very well. Nebraska has more talent than Minnesota and Iowa and should be able to win those games. Win all three, and it is going to Indianapolis to try to earn its first conference title since 1999.
Michigan State lost a chance to gain some serious momentum after last week's win at Wisconsin. The Spartans (5-5) now get their first bye week of the season and will have to concentrate on beating at least one more foe -- Northwestern and Minnesota remain on the schedule -- simply to make it to a bowl game.