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Instant Recap: MSU Battles Nebraska Down To The Wire And Escapes With A Victory

MSU uses multiple throwers, and a bit of end-game controversy, to end their losing streak

Nebraska v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

The Nebraska Cornhuskers came to East Lansing today for the final football game at Spartan Stadium this season. MSU has been in a tailspin while Nebraska came into the game still with a chance to win their division. Let’s look at the action.

MSU looked good for a few plays on their opening drive, but when Katin Houser needed to make a big throw on 3rd & 9 in the red zone to keep the drive moving, he misplaced the ball. That pass needed to go to the receiver’s outside shoulder; instead, Houser put it on the inside where it was nearly intercepted and MSU had to settle for a field goal.

The defense came out and forced a 3 & out highlighted by a 2nd down TFL on a screen pass when Caleb Coley got around the blocker to take down the receiver.

After MSU had a 3 & out of their own, featuring Houser sailing a pass away to end the drive, Nebraska looked like they were starting to get their offense going. At midfield, MSU’s defense forced a 4th & 2, but a QB keeper kept the drive going. Not for long, as MSU’s D then had 2 consecutive TFLs to bring up a 3rd & 19. And when Heinrich Haarberg tried to go deep, he overshot his receiver and MSU’s Jaden Mangham intercepted it at the five-yard line.

And then, perhaps unsurprisingly, Barnett made the switch to Sam Leavitt under center. But he took a sack on his first drop back, and then threw incomplete into coverage on 3rd down, so MSU punted again.

Nebraska started with good field position. MSU’s run defense looked good in the early going, but Nebraska went 5-wide on 3rd down and picked up a big gain deep into MSU territory. A couple zero-gain plays ended the 1st quarter with MSU up 3-0.

The 3rd down play for the Huskers to start the 2nd was a well-blocked run to move the chains. They would pick up another first down to get a goal-to-go situation, and then Haarberg kept it on a play action and waltzed into the endzone for a Nebraska lead.

MSU came back on offense, and Houser was back in at QB. They started with a few plays to Carter to get near midfield. Then a little trick-or-treat a few days after Halloween. Houser lateralled to Alante Brown who hit Montorie Foster for 42 yards down to the 12, and Brown got hit as he was throwing it too. Two plays later, Houser hit Christian Fitzpatrick for the touchdown, his second catch of the day. He suddenly is looking like a serviceable WR. And MSU was back in front, 10-7.

After giving up one first down, the defense had back-to-back great plays, first by Mangham (him again) for a TFL and then Malik Spencer getting his hands on a pass down the seam, to force a punt.

MSU’s ensuing possession was halted by a holding penalty before it could really get started, despite Foster trying to signal first down when he was tackled three yards short of the marker on 3rd and long and then rolled past the line to gain. So MSU was forced to punt, and Eckley booted it 57 yards to make Nebraska start at their own 20.

Penalties by MSU helped Nebraska get down the field including a sideline interference personal foul, a roughing the passer personal foul, and a defensive holding that nullified an endzone interception for Mangham in what would have been his second pick of the day. Ultimately, MSU stopped the Huskers from getting a TD and the visiting team kicked a short FG to tie the game at 10 at halftime.

Nebraska got the ball to start the 3rd quarter. They picked up a pair of first downs with the running game, but then a dropped pass on the next set of downs led to a punt, but at least they were able to put MSU into poor field position for their first drive of the 2nd half.

Houser hit Tyrell Henry on a crossing route to start the drive and Henry ran it to the 42 picking up some YAC. On the next series, MSU would rely on a 4th down conversion as Houser kept it and stumbled for just enough to move the chains. Sparty got one more first down on another pass to Henry before the drive stalled. A 51-yard kick by Jonathan Kim put MSU up 13-10 with 5 minutes remaining in the 3rd.

MSU recorded a TFL on a rush and then a sack to start Nebraska’s ensuing drive. On 3rd & 14, Haarberg evaded pressure but ended up throwing it away to end that drive in a hurry. And then Brian Buschini shanked the punt, giving the Spartans the ball at the Husker 49.

After picking up one first down on another Henry reception, Houser got sacked twice, leading to an MSU punt from the 50, one yard behind where they started the drive, but another great Eckley punt put Nebraska at their own 7 to start their drive.

The final play of the 3rd quarter was a 2-yard run. MSU was going into the final 15 minutes with the lead. After Aaron Brule got credit for a 3rd down sack, Nebraska punted from their own endzone, and Henry would bring the return inside the Huskers’ 40.

MSU dialed up some more trickeration on first down with Leavitt back in at QB, but the pass from Montorie Foster on the reverse to Leavitt, which was on target though hardly a spiral, got broken up just after it hit Leavitt’s hands. Two plays later, Leavitt got the first down with his legs. On the very next play, Leavitt hit Foster in a tight window for a touchdown, Leavitt’s first completion of the game. The play was reviewed but I agree with the call standing; Foster got his hand on the ball and trapped it to his chest before the nose of the ball touched the ground and you could not see the ball move as he rolled over the turf. So good call ref. And MSU goes up 20-10 with 12 and change to go.

The Spartan defense got a 3 & out, which included sack number 5, and Nebraska was forced to punt.

With Houser back under center, MSU reciprocated with a 3 & out of their own, but they were firmly in control of the field position, pinning their guests back at their own 6 as the game ticked under 9 minutes remaining.

The Cornhuskers would get it going with a 30-yard completion up the middle, then would take three plays to get exactly ten yards on the ground. On first down, Angelo Grose got away with a blatant pass interference penalty on a deep ball. And on 2nd down, Haarberg took another deep shot, this one ending up in the arms of MSU’s Khalil Majeed.

It was time for MSU to start trying to run the clock out, but an inexplicable pass on 2nd down helped Nebraska force the 3 & out, and a poor punt (that was nearly blocked) allowed Nebraska to get a shot starting from their 35, their best starting field position of the whole game.

Three plays later, the Huskers had first and goal following a 43-yard scramble by Haarberg, and they would score on a 4-yard run by Emmett Johnson. The score was 20-17 MSU.

With three and half to go, Nebraska lined up like they were going to go for the onside kick, but instead pooched it away.

On first down, MSU tried to go for the killshot but the pass was well defended. Two plays later, and only one of the Huskers’ timeouts burned, MSU punted it away.

Nebraska was starting from their 20 with a chance to win the game with a touchdown or send it to OT with a field goal. But after an incompletion and a short run, MSU brought pressure on 3rd down. Jalen Thompson forced the fumble, Cal Haladay recovered it, and MSU got the ball back deep in enemy territory.

Nebraska used their final two timeouts on a pair of MSU runs, and then a 3rd down run let MSU run the clock down to 48 seconds, when they took a timeout of their own.

And then… Kim missed a 44-yard field goal, giving Nebraska the ball at their 27 with no timeouts.

After a 9-yard pass and then a defensive holding call, the Huskers had it at the 46. A controversial play followed, with a fumble being called on a play where Simeon Barrow knocked the ball out of Haarberg’s hand just as he was beginning his throwing motion. A fumble being the call, the clock continued to run, and Nebraska had to hurry into position to get one last play off with two seconds left. The last chance heave was knocked down to the ground to seal the Spartans’ victory.

The broadcast team went back to the penultimate (I get points for using that word) play and rules analyst Dean Blandino tried to claim it should have been ruled an incomplete pass as Haarberg’s hand had started going forward. In my opinion, Barrow got to it just a split-second before his hand started forward and the call was correct on the field.

Looking at the box score, the Spartan D recorded 7 sacks and an additional 12 tackles for loss, not to mention three takeaways. On offense, four different passers (three who had completions) put up 232 yards through the air. And on the sideline, Harlon Barnett earned his first victory as head coach.

So the losing streak ends. MSU gets the win on Senior Day by the final score of 20-17. The Spartans are still bowl eligible. And I am a happy Spartan!