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Michigan State Overcomes Sluggish Second Half, Beats Nebraska in Overtime

“We haven’t played our best football yet this season, but we remain in the left hand column.” Mel Tucker had a lot of praise for his football team in his postgame press conference. Despite what was for the most part an ugly, blood-bath style Big Ten game, Michigan State and Nebraska came down to an exciting finish. If you were told pregame that the only Spartan first down of the second half was to come in overtime, you probably would have assumed they lost. Instead, Coach Tuckers players “kept chopping” and are now 4-0 on the year.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Nebraska was by far the toughest test of the season for Michigan State. Scott Frost’s Cornhuskers held their own once again after only losing by a touchdown to top-ranked Oklahoma last weekend. The Spartans offense had seven total drives in the first half. Four of them came to a halt inside the Nebraska 30 yard line. However, they had just 13 points heading into the locker room at halftime.

Adrian Martinez was the focal point of the Nebraska offense, accounting for 307 yards from scrimmage. Although he was sacked seven times, the senior quarterback extended plays more often than not, making clutch throws and scrambling for first downs. Michigan State did a decent job handling their last dual-threat QB in Miami’s D’Eriq King. Martinez on the other hand, proved to be a different animal. The Cornhuskers were able to orchestrate drives of fourteen, eleven, and eleven plays long, all in the third quarter, thanks to his leadership.

The Big Tens leading rusher Kenneth Walker lll was held to a season low, 3.2 yards per carry in the 23-20 Spartans win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It was apparent after todays game that Nebraska is a team that will play spoiler in the Big Ten this season. Much can be said about how they were able to force the MSU defense to remain on the field as much as they did in the second half. On the other hand, how defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton’s players responded was just as impressive. Michigan State will be watching film extensively this week, and they will be the first to tell you their opponent made them earn this one.

A Second Half Not Worth Repeating

Everyone inside Spartan Stadium, or the now called “Woodshed,” saw it in the second half. The Spartans defense couldn’t get off the field, and the Spartans offense couldn’t stay on it. Nebraska ran 49 plays while Michigan State ran just 15 plays. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson did not call his best game Saturday night. Every drive in the second stanza resulted in a three-and-out.

“We’re telling them we are built for this. This is what defense is all about…Eventually you are going to have the opportunity to make a play, and you make it.”

Head Coach Mel Tucker when asked what message he was giving his defense

If you were to look up the definition of ‘bend but don’t break,’ you would see a picture of the MSU defense from this game. The Cornhuskers had a total of 440 yards of offense, but were held to just 20 points. Time of possession was severely lopsided, however Nebraska went seven for nineteen on third down conversions. Commercial breaks was the best friend of a very tired Spartans defense. Well except for Xavier Henderson that is, who had a whopping 17 tackles on the day.

Winning With Special Teams

So, with the offense and defense both up against the ropes, special teams coordinator Ross Els came to the rescue. With less than four minutes left in the game, both Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor were out on the field to return a punt. Daniel Cerni sent a line drive down the left side of the field, but the convoy of Cornhuskers descended on Nailor, who was on the right. As a result, Reed fielded the ball in stride, and the rest is history. “Two seconds after the ball was kicked, I knew it was six,” said Jayden postgame.

Every Spartan that took the podium mentioned how they knew this game was going to be a dog-fight. Kenneth Walker lll was kept in check for the first time this season, but his biggest run of the day set up the game winning field goal. Payton Thorne admitted he didn’t play his best game, but plays were made to counteract that. The 2021 edition of Michigan State football is just different. They have shown they can win from offensive explosions, and now because of durable defense and sound special teams. Look out Big Ten because not only are the Spartans 4-0, but they are bringing you into the deep water with them.

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