Michigan State stuffed Nebraska's vaunted rushing attack from the very first possession, eventually taking a 27-3 lead before Nebraska mounted a furious fourth quarter comeback that ended with an interception in the final minute. Kurtis Drummond's game clinching interception came just one play after Alonzo Moore dropped a potential game-winning touchdown.
Most of the game looked bleak as Nebraska struggled to move the ball most of the night; it started up front as the Huskers offensive line was dominated all night...and it was the entire line. Zach Sterup was eaten alive by Spartans' defensive end Marcus Rush, Mark Pelini twice snapped the ball prematurely, and Alex Lewis took some bad penalties.
And then there was Jake Cotton, who seemed to be a tad out of sorts all night long. Like on this play where he lost his balance before the snap:
The Nebraska defense kept the Huskers within reach, though they did break on a 55 yard touchdown catch by Tony Lippett and a 31 touchdown run by Jeremy Langford. Connor Cook was harassed all night long, completing just 11 of 29 passes for 234 yards. But that one touchdown to Lippett gave the Spartans the early lead that they wouldn't relinquish. After Nebraska cornerback Daniel Davie left the game due to a leg injury, he was replaced by Jonathan Rose who thought that Lippett had run out of bounds, only to watch Lippett race downfield for an easy touchdown. Rose was then replaced by true freshman Joshua Kalu, who played pretty well in his first action at cornerback.
On Langford's run, safety Nathan Gerry and defensive end Greg McMullen bit on a fake jet sweep, which created just enough of a seam to spring Langford into the secondary. Lippett added a 32 yard touchdown run on a reverse to give Michigan State a 27-3 lead midway through the third quarter, which sent most of the Spartan students home (or at least out of the stadium) to celebrate the victory.
Except the Huskers had something else in mind. Ameer Abdullah scored twice in the fourth quarter on short runs, but it was true freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El who made the game a game once again. After Nebraska pulled to within 11, the defense forced a three-and-out by the Spartans, and Michigan State punter Mike Sadler kicked the ball to Pierson-El, who streaked 62 yards to pull Nebraska to within five points (after the two point conversion failed.)
In the first half, Sadler pinned Nebraska inside the 1 yard line late, and ABC's cameras caught Sadler making a weird gesture afterwards. For those of you that followed Sadler and @FauxPelini on Twitter, Sadler promised to pet the cat after a great punt.
@FauxPelini I'm not. But after every good punt I am going to honor you by petting an imaginary cat.— Mike Sadler (@Sadler_3) October 2, 2014
And he did.
After the game, Sadler admitted that maybe petting the cat jinxed him on the Pierson-El return.
@FauxPelini I think your cat gave me bad luck for the rest of the game. You can keep her! Haha looking forward to a rematch in December!— Mike Sadler (@Sadler_3) October 5, 2014
Nebraska tried an unsuccessful onside kick, but Michigan State was unable to run out the clock when Randy Gregory forced Langford out of bounds. The Spartans tried a field goal (with Sadler holding), but the kick doinked off the goal posts and fell short, giving Nebraska the ball at their own 20 yard line with just 1:07 left in the game with no timeouts. On first down, Tommy Armstrong overthrew Abdullah, who was wide open with nobody in front of him for 20 yards. But on second down, Armstrong threw a perfect pass to Alonzo Moore, who streaked 43 yards to the Spartans 37 yard line. Two plays later, Armstrong again found Moore in the end zone, but the ball popped loose into the band as Moore hit the turf. But the game ended on the next play when Armstrong's pass was intercepted by Trae Waynes with 30 seconds left.
On the day, Abdullah was held to just 45 yards on 24 carries, while Armstrong completed 20 of 43 passes for 273 yards. Jordan Westerkamp caught nine passes for 157 yards. Kenny Bell caught three passes for 31 yards, but left in the second quarter after reinjuring his groin.
Nebraska is now 5-1 and has a bye week before travelling to Northwestern, who now leads the Big Ten's west division with a 2-0 record after upsetting Wisconsin at home earlier Saturday.