The Michigan State Spartans hosted the Nebraska Cornhuskers under the lights in a striped-out Spartan Stadium, and in a very physical contest, the Spartans were able to outlast the Cornhuskers in overtime by a final score of 23-20.
The first half was a low-scoring affair. Michigan State received the ball first, but four plays later quarterback Payton Thorne threw his first interception of the season on a throw downfield intended for Jalen Nailor. Nebraska’s Marquel Dismuke was able to get the turnover for the Cornhuskers.
On Nebraska’s first play, quarterback Adrian Martinez was sacked by Michigan State’s Drew Beesley and Jacub Panasiuk. A couple plays later, Martinez was shaken up on a quarterback keeper, and left the game for a brief period. He would miss one drive before returning. Beesley would also exit the game at a different point, and did not return. He was seen on the sideline wearing a walking boot.
Michigan State would turn the ball over on downs on its next drive. The Cornhuskers and Spartans would go on to trade punts for the rest of the first quarter, and the game was tied at zeros after the first 15 minutes of play.
The second quarter saw a little bit more scoring and excitement. Three plays in, Michigan State got on the board for the first time on Saturday night, as Thorne hit wide receiver Jayden Reed on a 35-yard pass off of a flea flicker. Kicker Matt Coghlin would add the extra point to put the Spartans up 7-0.
Nebraska would answer on its next drive by also getting on the board for the first time of the night. The Cornhuskers would drive 65 yards on seven plays, eventually getting to Michigan State’s eight-yard-line before faltering. Kicker Connor Culp made a 28-yard field goal, and the Spartans’ lead was cut to four points, at 7-3.
Reed would take the ensuing kickoff 41 yards, setting up Michigan State at its own 43-yard-line. MSU would get a couple of big plays back-to-back after that, as Thorne hit Tre Mosley for a 35-yard gain, and then Kenneth Walker III ripped off an 11-yard gain on the ground, which then spotted the ball at Nebraska’s 11-yard-line. The Spartans would stall out on the next three plays, though, and settled for a field goal. Coghlin drilled the kick from 26 yards out, giving the Spartans a 10-3 lead.
Nebraska would then find the end zone for the first time on the night. The Cornhuskers would go 75 yards on nine plays, which ended on a 12-yard run from Martinez for six points. Culp added the extra point and tied the game at 10-10.
Michigan State would add some more points to its total on the next drive. A 34-yard catch and run from H-back/tight end Connor Heyward, running over Nebraska defenders along the way, set MSU up deep into Nebraska territory. However MSU, couldn’t punch it into the end zone, and settled for a 27-yard field goal from Coghlin, making the score 13-10 in the Spartans’ favor. That would be the score at halftime, as Nebraska would block another field goal attempt by Coghlin as time expired in the first half.
The Michigan State offense severely struggled in second half, but somehow found a way to get the victory. Michigan State gained a total of 14 net yards — including just one yard in the fourth quarter — and didn’t gain a single first down in the half.
The Cornhuskers got the ball to start the third quarter and drove 60 yards on 14 plays, taking 5:50 off of the clock, before adding a 28-yard field goal from Culp, which tied the game at 13 apiece.
The teams would trade punts throughout the rest of the third quarter, but then the Michigan State defense would make a big play early in the fourth quarter. Panasiuk strip-sacked Martinez, and Jeff Pietrowski recovered the fumble, setting the Spartans up on Nebraska’s 45-yard-line. However, MSU once again couldn’t move the ball. After a play that was originally called a catch by Reed was overturned, the Spartans went three-and-out for the third possession in a row.
Nebraska then made a statement, driving 80 yards in 11 plays, and taking 5:05 off of the clock. After driving down the field with ease, Martinez eventually scored on a three-yard run. The extra point was good and the Cornhuskers took the lead for the first time of the game at 20-13.
The Michigan State offense got the ball back, and proceeded to go three-and-out once again, as Thorne was sacked by the Nebraska defense on third down. Michigan State punted the ball back to Nebraska with 6:13 left in the game.
At this point, with the Spartans unable to move the ball and the Nebraska offense seemingly gaining momentum, it looked like Michigan State’s chances of getting a victory were slim at best.
However, the Michigan State defense and special teams units would step up. The MSU defense forced a Nebraska three-and-out, and then Reed made the play of the game on the ensuing punt return. Reed returned the punt 62 yards for a Michigan State touchdown. Coghlin added the extra point, and all of a sudden, the game was tied 20-20 with 3:47 to play.
Nebraska would get two more possessions in regulation, and Michigan State had one more possession, but neither team scored, and the game went into the overtime period.
Michigan State won the coin toss and elected to play defense first. Then, it was Florida transfer cornerback Chester Kimbrough’s turn to make a play. He intercepted Martinez on third down in the first possession of the extra session, and nearly took it all the way to the end zone for a score, but was stopped just short.
This set up Michigan State to win by a field goal or touchdown. Walker took the first offensive play for MSU in overtime for 23 yards, down to the Nebraska two-yard-line. The Spartans would attempt the game-winning field goal three plays later, and Coghlin made it from 21 yards out, giving the Spartans an improbable win.
The Michigan State defense recorded seven sacks and one turnover. Nebraska out-gained Michigan State 440 yards to 254 yards. The Spartans also converted just one out of 10 third-down attempts, and still won, somehow.
Michigan State moves to 4-0 for the first time since 2015. MSU is also now 2-0 in Big Ten play. Nebraska dropped to 2-3 overall, and 0-2 in the conference.
This is Michigan State’s first win over Nebraska since 2014, and just the third time in program history that the Spartans defeated the Cornhuskers (now 3-9 all-time).