Get the latest show updates from Jack & Dave and Drive Time Lincoln, breaking news from the KLIN News Room and first notice on upcoming contests, promotions and special programming. Be a member of the KLIN Voice of Lincoln club. It's free and we won't spam your mailbox!
Nebraska Rallies Again, Stuns Michigan State 28-24 on Turner Touchdown
Husker fans must feel a lot like Roger Murtaugh this season.
High blood pressure runs rampant in the Whitney family. After Nebraska’s comeback win over Michigan State, it’s safe to say many other Nebraska families may have the same affliction. Facing a top 10 defense on the road with 80 yards to go, the Huskers kept their cool and ground out their best drive of the game when they absolutely needed it most to continue the march to Indy. While Husker nation might be getting too old for this....stuff, I have little doubt they'll take Nebraska's third double-digit comeback victory of the season.
Taylor Martinez found Jamal Turner in the left corner of the end zone for the game-winning 5-yard touchdown pass with six second to play as the Huskers escaped East Lansing with a 28-24 win over Michigan State and kept themselves in the driver’s seat in the Legends Division and a chance to play for the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis. It was a game rife with penalties, costly turnovers, and missed opportunities for both teams. But Nebraska found a way, as they have three times prior this season, to overcome a double-digit second half deficit and head back to Lincoln with a hard-fought victory.
Both teams were shall we say, magnanimous, in their gift giving and the officials remained consistently eager to throw their flags as nine penalties on both teams turned the game at various points. The Spartans turned a potential field goal into a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter after a questionable pass interference penalty gave them new life deep in Husker territory, while Nebraska was equally as fortuitous with a pass interference penalty on Darqueze Dennard gave the Huskers a first and goal on the Michigan State 5 with 17 seconds to play. Two plays later, Martinez found Turner and Husker Nation can start thinking very hard about Indianapolis in early December.
This will go down as one of Martinez’s games despite the three interceptions he threw along the way. For the second time in his career, Martinez rushed for 200 yards and added two touchdown passes and two touchdown runs along the way as he passed Eric Crouch for the program’s all-time total offense leader. It might be a maddening endeavor to rely on Martinez from week to week, but after he came up short in previous situations, Martinez is starting to excel and make not only a team, but a fan base believe that he will get the job done.
Both teams were a little shall we say, sluggish, to start out. Nebraska dialed up three passes on the game’s opening drive with all three falling incomplete to force a punt from Brett Maher, which went only 16 yards and gave Michigan State great field position at the Nebraska 40. However, the Spartans couldn’t capitalize as a 49-yard field goal attempt from Dan Conroy was no good and no damage was done.
The Huskers drove down deep into Spartan territory, but a holding call on Cole Pensick coupled with Martinez’s first interception of the day stopped the drive. Michigan State responded by capping off a 10-play drive with Le’Veon Bell’s 11-yard touchdown run to give the Spartans the 7-0 lead. Two pass interference penalties helped the drive continue and Nebraska had to find the answer…which they did in five plays and 75 yards, as Martinez threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Ameer Abdullah to tie the game at 7. On that drive, Martinez set up the touchdown with a 60-yard run to the Michigan State 5. It looked like Nebraska had found the Martinez running game of old and they’d rely heavily on it later.
After a Michigan State punt, Nebraska took over on their 20 and drove all the way to the Spartans 13 before Maher missed a 30-yard field goal that began to loom large as a close game continued. Buoyed by the miss, Andrew Maxwell would connect with Tony Lippett for a 46-yard touchdown pass and Sparty was back in front 14-7. The teams traded three-and-outs before Martinez took off for 71 yards and the equalizing touchdown with 3:11 left in the first half. That’s how we went to half-time, tied at 14 apiece.
Strangely, there haven’t been that many games during Bo Pelini’s time as head coach at Nebraska that have been tied at halftime. Only five in fact before this game were tied at the half; Nebraska had won three of them, and lost two, with the most recent occurrence in the UCLA game earlier this season. Both offenses were surprisingly effective running the ball, but struggled throwing it. In the third quarter however, Michigan State stuffed the Nebraska offense and carved out just enough of their own to take the lead.
Bell went over the 100-yard mark early in the third quarter after a 26 yard run as Michigan State drove to the Nebraska 8 before settling for a 25-yard Conroy field goal as they regained the lead at 17-14. Nebraska went three and out but Michigan State gave the ball right back as Daimion Stafford forced a Bell fumble and Will Compton recovered at the Huskers’ 45. The offense couldn’t capitalize and punted right back to the Spartans after their second straight three-and-out. Nebraska would get the ball back, but Martinez threw his second interception of the game and Sparty was back in business as Dennard returned it all the way to the Nebraska 38. With the ball inside the 10, Maxwell scrambled out of bounds and was hit by Stafford to draw a late hit flag…which replays showed was actually Stafford getting pushed by Keith Mumphrey into Maxwell on a crowded sideline. Nonetheless, the drive continued as the third quarter came to an end.
Bell scored from a yard out on the second play of the fourth quarter and Michigan State put the Huskers behind the eight-ball again at 24-14. Martinez fumbled but Nebraska was able to recover on their own 35 for a first down on the ensuing drive, which culminated in the second-to-worst outcome possible for the drive that had reached the Michigan State 5—an interception by Dennard which was returned for a touchdown. But a personal foul penalty negated the potential backbreaking return and Michigan State would waste the gift and go three-and-out. Martinez redeemed himself with his final touchdown run on the afternoon, going 35 yards to bring the Huskers back within 24-21 with 7:02 to play. Say what you will about Nebraska’s costly penalties, but Michigan State took seven points off the board themselves on a very costly penalty and Nebraska capitalized.
Three-and-out again from Michigan State as Nebraska took over at their 41. The drive stalled as Quincy Enunwa was stopped at the Spartans 40 on fourth down to set up a potential game-sealing drive for Michigan State. After gaining an initial first down, Nebraska stopped Bell short of another first down to force a punt that sailed into the end zone. I theorized that Mark D’Antonio might have been better suited to go for the 4th and 2 conversion at the Nebraska 38 because a punt would not gain much field position, especially if it was a touchback. Second guessing aside, Nebraska took over with 80 yards and 1:20 remaining.
Right off the bat, Martinez found Enunwa for 22 yards up to the Huskers 42, but after a run for no gain and two incomplete passes, it all came down to a crucial fourth down. Kyler Reed broke free to the inside over the middle and caught a perfect pass from Martinez on that fourth down and would get to the Michigan State 20 to keep hope alive. Two incompletions later set up another huge third down with Martinez going for Kenny Bell in the end zone for the game winner, which fell incomplete. But Dennard was called for pass interference, Nebraska got the ball at the Spartans 5 and two plays later Martinez found Turner for the game winner.
For the second time in three weeks, Nebraska found themselves down double-digits with less than ten minutes to play. For the second time in three weeks, the Huskers found a way to win thanks to not only Martinez and the offense, but also in large part due to their defense in the closing moments. Sure, the Huskers had given up 238 yards rushing on the day, but they stopped Bell on a crucial third down in the waning moments that got them the ball back and allowed for the game-winning score. It was a game that Nebraska could have very easily lost…I’m not quite sure if Nebraska won it so much as Michigan State gave it away to some degree, but make no mistake—the Huskers took it and appear to be a team of destiny in this year’s Big Ten race.
While the interceptions from Martinez were a bit troubling, you saw why Pelini tabbed him as the starter two years ago. His big play ability kept Nebraska in the game and eventually won it in the final moments, as the offense got on track and Enunwa, Turner, and Reed finally found some space to settle into inside of a stout Michigan State secondary. Winning isn’t always pretty, but for a team that seems to find a way to win this year in challenging situations, the final score has been most beautiful yet again. Let’s move to the grades…
The third quarter saw Nebraska run eight plays for a total of -4 yards as Michigan State took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter. The passing game saw its share of struggles—Bell dropped a potential touchdown in the second quarter that forced the 30-yard field goal attempt from Maher that sailed wide right, Martinez threw three picks, and the Spartans harassed Martinez into 16-of-36 passing on the day. Nebraska needed each and every one of the 160 yards through the air they got against the Spartans.
The ground game was surprisingly strong, as Martinez gashed a Spartans defense that was giving up just over 91 yards per game rushing. Martinez finished with 205 yards while Abdullah chipped in 110 of his own as the Huskers racked up 313 in total. The line opened some big holes for both, but did have two false start penalties from Andrew Rodriguez on the same drive. Given that this was a top 5 defense nationally that Nebraska went up against, the Huskers never really seemed overwhelmed. The turnovers hurt, however, and nearly cost them the game. We’ll give the offense a B- overall.
The rush defense however for the Huskers was not as solid as it had been in previous weeks. Then again, they weren’t going up against Bell, who had 36 carries for 188 yards and two touchdowns. You knew what you were going to get with the Spartans offense, there was no surprise that Bell carried as many times as he did. The pass defense was called for three pass interference penalties, but save for the long touchdown to Lippett, did pretty well against an erratic Maxwell.
The fumble caused by Stafford helped stop a Spartans drive in Nebraska territory and the Blackshirts stopped Bell short of a game-clinching first down in the final two minutes. I did see a few more missed tackles this week, but it’s tough to tackle Bell one-on-one. Still, those are things that have to be eliminated when you’re playing November football. A good effort from the Blackshirts, we’ll go with a B.
The Special Teams
Looked good last week, looked pretty bad this week. Maher’s miss in the second quarter was magnified as the game wore on and his 16-yard punt on the opening drive nearly gave Michigan State three points of their own. The return games were non-existent, but didn’t cost Nebraska much in field position, turnovers, or points. Michigan State didn’t break any big returns either, so that part of the game was virtually eliminated. The field goal miss was huge however; the special teams get a D.
Immediately after the game, Michigan State players took to Twitter to voice their frustrations over the late pass interference call, including Bell, who said he felt the Spartans had lost only one game legitimately all season long—and that was to Notre Dame. Even to the most diehard Husker fan, the late pass interference call was questionable, but it was the result of some very shaky calls all afternoon that ended up costing both teams points. Michigan State can blame themselves for seven points being taken off the board on Dennard’s interception return, in addition to a late hit penalty, one more for a personal foul on a punt return, and other miscues that seem to have plagued their season. For once, the Huskers may have found their counterpart in that department, and it certainly aided them in their comeback.
With three games to go, the Huskers find themselves at 7-2, 4-1 in conference, and just about ready for their third conference championship game appearance in four years. This team continues to commit costly penalties, commit turnovers at an alarming rate, but somehow emerge victorious. It speaks to the heart and will of Pelini’s senior-laden team. While specializing in fourth quarter comebacks may not be the best way to go about your business, it really doesn’t matter when you’re getting wins after them. It remains to be seen whether the magic will run out, but for now it’s working.
Penn State comes to town next week after a 34-9 thrashing of Purdue, in which the Nittany Lions held the woeful Boilermakers to less than 300 yards of total offense and used a 322-yard passing day from Matt McGloin to easily up their mark to 4-1 in the conference. Minnesota was beaten soundly by Michigan and a backup quarterback, and Iowa was beaten by Indiana as the seat under Kirk Ferentz is a step below white hot. The final three games will see Nebraska as favorites—the question now becomes, can the Huskers keep their intensity after three straight weeks of emotional, high-pressure football?
Nebraska has won by 3, 1, 14, and 4 points in victories over Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State this season. And yet, they have still been outscored by three points in their conference games, thanks to their 25-point loss at Ohio State. We wondered if the Huskers could win the close games. The hearts of Husker fans will attest that they can, but they certainly make it interesting along the way.