As the fourth quarter began in East Lansing, Nebraska looked like it was cooked and ready to be served on a platter. The Cornhuskers trailed 27-3 and hadn’t accomplished much of anything offensively. The ABC broadcast team moved on to blowout talk, half the Spartan Stadium crowd went home to catch the end of Nats-Giants, and the Spartans’ minds apparently started wondering where they’d be in the polls on Sunday morning.
And then Ameer Abudullah punched in a two-yard touchdown with 12:49 remaining to pull Nebraska to within 18. Then he scored again with 4:10 to go to make it 27-16. Then Nebraska forced a punt, and De’Mornay Pierson-El returned it 62 yards to make the score 27-22 with 3:22 remaining.
Michigan State, by now aware Nebraska had not consented to an easy ending, recovered the ensuing onside kick and moved the ball to Nebraska’s 19, but Michael Geiger missed a 37-yard field goal that would have ensured Nebraska could do no more than force overtime. Suddenly the Cornhuskers had the ball with a chance to win the game, and 67 seconds to make it happen.
After an incompletion on first down, Tommy Armstrong, Jr. found Alonzo Moore down the sideline for 43 yards, putting the ball at the Michigan State 37. Alas, after a first-down incompletion, Armstrong was intercepted by Trae Waynes at the 17-yard line, ending what would have been the cherry on top of a crazy Saturday in college football.
Final score: No. 10 Michigan State 27, No. 19 Nebraska 22.
The 19-0 fourth-quarter rally by Bo Pelini’s bunch makes you wonder what could have happened had Nebraska produced zero points on three first half Michigan State turnovers inside its own territory.
Michigan State’s defense was, obviously, dominant for most of the night, temporarily suspending Abdullah’s Heisman Trophy campaign by limiting the runner to just 45 yards on 24 carries. Armstrong completed 20-0f-43 throws for 273 yards with two interceptions while being credited for seven rushing yards on 11 attempts.
Jeremy Langford and Tony Lippett carried the day for Michigan State, producing all three of the Spartans’ touchdowns on the night. The former rushed 29 times for 111 yards and a touchdown, while the latter caught three passes for 104 yards and a touchdown while rushing once for a 32-yard score.
While the battle of talented running backs did not live up to billing, each of the All-America candidates at defensive end made their respective presences felt. Nebraska’s Randy Gregory intercepted Connor Cook on the second play of the game, while Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun scooped up an Abdullah fumble and returned it 38 yards, sparking an exchange that could have seen Nebraska pull within 14-7 to a Michigan State extending its lead to 17-0.
The loss denies Nebraska its chance to start 6-0 for the first time since 2001, but the Huskers still appear to be the class of the Big Ten West following Wisconsin’s loss to Northwestern earlier Saturday. Nebraska will get a week off before traveling to Evanston to face those Wildcats on Oct. 18.
Michigan State, meanwhile, visits Purdue on Saturday and will presumably play all 60 minutes of that game.