Lincoln, NE - Coming off of a loss to Ohio State where another strong defensive performance was overshadowed by a poor offensive effort, Michigan State was on the road at Nebraska on Saturday afternoon, looking to again bounce back from a disappointing loss.
Facing snowy and windy weather that a swirling wind that at times hit 30 MPH, while playing without starting quarterback Brian Lewerke, the offense, led by Rocky Lombardi, failed to find any kind of consistency once again as the Spartans wasted another sterling defensive effort, falling to Nebraska in ugly fashion, 9-6.
After a Matt Coghlin field goal from 26-yards away game the Spartans their first points since the first drive of the game, extending the lead to 6-0 early in the fourth quarter, the Nebraska offense finally started to get on track.
The Cornhuskers started the ensuing drive with great field position, starting in Michigan State territory following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Spartans. Nebraska then moved inside the 20-yard line after a 35-yard pass from Adrian Martinez to Stanley Morgan Jr., setting up a 36-yard field goal by Barret Pickering, cutting the Michigan State lead in half, 6-3 with 11:07 left to play.
On the second play of the next Michigan State drive, Nebraska safety Antonio Reed came through unblocked, drilling backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi, jarring the ball loose as defensive tackle Damion Daniels recovered the ball, giving the Cornhuskers the ball back at the Michigan State 20-yard line.
Michigan State’s receivers didn’t do Lombardi many favors on Saturday as Spartan receivers dropped seven passes on the afternoon. When asked after the game he covered for them by saying, “I didn’t see any drops.” He threw for just 146 yards on 15-of-41 passing while throwing one interception and losing a fumble.
The Michigan State defense would come up with another stellar defensive stand, holding Nebraska out of the end zone despite the short field as the Cornhuskers eventually settled for a 20-yard field goal to tie the game at 6-6 with 8:07 left to play.
With the Michigan State offense continuing to struggle, going 3-and-out once again, the Nebraska offense continued moving the ball against the Michigan State defense just enough to get into scoring range.
Starting at their own 45-yard line, Nebraska used five plays to move down to the Michigan State 30-yard line, setting up for yet another field goal from Pickering, this time from 47-yards out, to give the Cornhuskers their first lead of the game, 9-6 with just over five minutes left to play.
Martinez finished with 145 yards through the air on 16-of-37 passing, while Devine Ozigbo rushed for 74 yards on 18 carries to lead the Cornhuskers.
Nebraska entered Saturday afternoon as the 13th ranked team in the country in yards per game, averaging nearly 500 yards, but was held in check for the majority of the contest as the Spartan defense limited the Cornhuskers to just 248 yards of offense.
With the game slipping away, the Michigan State offense looked poised to at least move into field goal range following a 34-yard pass and catch from Lombardi to Connor Heyward down to the Nebraska 41-yard line, but three plays later, the Spartans were forced to punt.
Heyward led the way for the Michigan State offense, rushing for 80 yards on 21 carries and also caught five passes for 78 yards.
After a quick 3-and-out forced by the Spartan defense, Michigan State had one final opportunity to tie or win the game, but with the Spartans facing 4th-and-4 from the 29 yard line in the windy, snowy weather, the Spartans understandably elected not to kick a field goal and a pass intended for Matt Dotson fell incomplete, giving the ball back to Nebraska with under two minutes to play.
After the game, a visibly frustrated Dantonio said, “I am frustrated about points, but the play calling was fine.” The seven drops combined with FIVE 15-yard personal fouls speaks to a team in which the players need to take a huge stake in the loss today. While the offensive play calling was at times suspect, this loss fell on everyone not associated with the defense.
Michigan State closes out the regular season at Spartan Stadium next Saturday against Rutgers.
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