Big Red Rally Scares No. 10 Spartans
East Lansing, Mich. - No. 19 Nebraska almost put together the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in Husker history before falling 27-22 in the final seconds on a cold, rainy night at Spartan Stadium on Saturday.
Nebraska, which slipped to 5-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten, scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns after falling behind 27-3 after three quarters. The Huskers were shut out in the first half, and did not find the end zone until 12:49 left, but the Big Red had the ball at the MSU 37 in the final minute with a chance to win.
Tommy Armstrong Jr., who had been knocked out of the game briefly in the final quarter, threw a strike into the end zone that wide receiver Alonzo Moore nearly made an amazing catch that would have given the Huskers a 28-27 lead with 35 seconds left.
Moore couldn't hold on as he hit the ground just outside the right side of the end zone with two Spartan defenders and teammate De'Mornay Pierson-El sprawling in front of him. Had Moore hauled it in, it would have been one of the most miraculous catches in Husker history to complete the most miraculous fourth-quarter comeback in Big Red books.
The next play, Michigan State's Trae Waynes intercepted Armstrong on a pass intended for Lane Hovey in the flat. It was NU's final play of the game to end a gutsy rally by a Big Red bunch that was knocked down but not out on the road for three quarters by the defending Big Ten champion Spartans.
The Spartans led 27-3 heading into the fourth quarter, before the Huskers marched into MSU territory on their first drive of the final period. With senior wide receiver Kenny Bell already out of the game with an early injury, Armstrong took a hit at the end of a first-down-gaining run that briefly knocked him out of the game.
But backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe finished off NU's first touchdown drive by handing off to Ameer Abdullah on a two-yard plunge to pull the Huskers within 27-9 with 12:49 left. Nebraska's two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Big Red had more scoring in store.
Abdullah, who was held to just 45 yards rushing on 24 carries, scored again with 4:10 left on a one-yard smash and Drew Brown's extra point pulled NU within 27-16.
Then it got really interesting.
Michigan State set up to defend an onside kick attempt, but Brown kicked it deep. The ball hit Spartan R.J. Shelton at the MSU 1, and he returned it to the Michigan State 10 before being swarmed by the Husker special teams. The Spartans pushed it to the MSU 18, but on 3rd-and-2, Randy Gregory and Trevor Roach stuffed Jeremy Langford to force a punt, after the Huskers burned all three timeouts on the drive.
Roach finished the game with a career-high 18 tackles, including nine solo stops and four tackles for nine yards in losses on the night. Gregory added seven stops including a TFL and an interception.
Spartan punter Mike Sadler's kick sailed 43 yards, but Pierson-El caught it at the NU 38 and the Husker spark plug fired off a 62-yard return for a touchdown to pull the Big Red within 27-22 with 3:22 left. It was Pierson-El's second punt return for a touchdown this season.
Nebraska's two-point conversion attempt failed again, but the Blackshirts had one more chance to give the offense the ball back.
After Brown's onside kick attempt was fielded cleanly by the Spartans, the Huskers stopped MSU on a short field, and Gregory forced Langford out of bounds with 1:12 left to stop the clock. Michigan State chose to attempt a long field goal to try and take a 30-22 lead, but Geiger's kick hit the left upright and fell to the turf, leaving the Huskers one final chance.
Nebraska started its final drive at the NU 20 with 1:07 left. After an incompletion intended for Abdullah, Armstrong connected with Moore on a 43-yard pass down the right sideline to push the Huskers to the MSU 37. Michigan State took its final timeout of the game to regroup, before Armstrong nearly connected with Moore again in the end zone for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown.
Despite being pursued relentlessly by the Spartans, Armstrong completed 24-of-48 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a pair of interceptions. He was also sacked five times for 25 yards in losses.
Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp did the most damage for Armstrong and the Huskers, hauling in nine receptions for 158 yards. Bell added three catches for 31 yards in the first quarter before leaving the game after being tackled by three Spartan defenders on the NU sideline.
Nebraska's passing game rallied the Big Red, as Armstrong and Fyfe amassed 282 yards through the air, to overcome a running game that was bottled up for just 47 yards on 37 attempts by the Spartans.
However, big plays in the return game by Pierson-El, who had two punt returns for 95 yards, kept the Huskers within striking distance in the final minute.
Michigan State survived the Husker comeback to improve to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten.
Nebraska's Blackshirts forced three first-half turnovers, but the Husker offense was unable to convert them into points as the Spartans took a 17-0 lead into the locker room in the half.
Michigan State used big plays to to jump to the lead. Spartan quarterback Connor Cook hit wide receiver Tony Lippett on a 55-yard touchdown pass to cap a three-play, 80-yard drive to give MSU a 7-0 lead with 8:22 left in the first quarter.
Cook finished the night just 11-of-29 but those completions covered 234 yards. His lone touchdown pass was to Lippett. Cook also had a first-quarter pass interception by Gregory, after it was deflected by Vincent Valentine at the line of scrimmage.
Lippett hauled in three receptions for 104 yards and added a touchdown run on a 32-yard reverse later in the game to provide the biggest offensive spark for the Spartans.
MSU also got a big night from Langford, who carried 29 times for 111 yards and a score.
In the second quarter, Langford raced 31 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage after a punt return to put the Spartans up 14-0 with 13:48 left in the half. Geiger capped the first-half scoring for the Spartans with a 28-yard field goal.
The Huskers had chances in the first half, but committed two turnovers of their own, which Michigan State was able to capitalize on. One of the NU turnovers came on a fumble inside the MSU 10.
The Huskers will take a week off from compettion before returning to the field at Northwestern on Saturday, Oct. 18. The Wildcats improved to 2-0 in the Big Ten with a win over Wisconsin in Evanston, Ill., on Saturday afternoon.
Final: #10 Michigan State 27, #19 Nebraska 22
Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014
Spartan Stadium (East Lansing, Mich.)
First Quarter (MSU 7-0)
MSU - 8:22 - Tony Lippett 55 pass from Connor Cook (Michael Geiger kick), 3 plays, 80 yards, 0:59 - MSU 7-0
Second Quarter (MSU, 17-0)
MSU - 13:48 - Jeremy Langford 31 run (Geiger kick), 1 play, 31 yards, 0:08 - MSU 14-0
MSU - 4:32 - Geiger 28 FG, 7 plays, 45 yards, 2:52 - MSU 17-0
Third Quarter (MSU, 27-3)
MSU - 9:18 - Geiger 27 FG, 4 plays, 5 yards, 1:28, MSU 20-0
NEB - 6:12 - Drew Brown 40 FG - 13 plays, 52 yards, 3:06 - MSU 20-3
MSU - 2:02 - Lippett 32 run (Geiger kick), 7 plays, 84 yards, 4:05 - MSU 27-3
Fourth Quarter (MSU, 27-22)
NEB - 12:49 - Ameer Abdullah 2 run (2PAT run failed) - 6 plays, 43 yards, 1:11 - MSU 27-9
NEB - 4:10 - Abdullah 1 run (Brown kick) - 5 plays, 68 yards, 1:37 - MSU 27-16
NEB - 3:22 - De'Mornay Pierson-El 62 punt return (2PAT run failed) - MSU - 27-22
Final: #10 Michigan State 27, #19 Nebraska 22
Time of Game: 3:54
Game Start: 7:14 p.m. (central)