Stop me if you've heard this one before: Down ten points early in the 4th quarter, Nebraska is driving inside the opponents' 10 yard line. Taylor Martinez makes a bad read and throws right to the opposing cornerback, who picks it off and weaves 96 yards to score and put the game away, ending Nebraska's chances of a comeback, and throwing a huge wrench in Nebraska's designs for the Legends division championship. Sound kinda familiar?
Sorry, but this isn't 2011. Nebraska caught a break with a personal foul that put Michigan State back on their own 10 yard line, forced the three and out, and went on to score two TDs and steal a road win and remain in the proverbial driver's seat in the Big 10.
In a messy, physical game, the Huskers took better advantage of their breaks than Michigan State did, and down three points near the end, Martinez, Kyler Reed, Kenny Bell, and Jamal Turner needed only 1 minute and 14 seconds to make everything all right again in Husker Nation. The Spartan players and coaches, understandably hurt by the turn of events, cried foul against the refs, but nobody can deny the immense fortitude and mental toughness of this Husker team. Halfway through Bo Pelini's "Win out." gauntlet, we've discovered that it's never going to be easy or pretty, but you can never count out the Huskers until the clock says 0:00.
Now that I'm not having a heart attack, any more, let's review:
Offensive MVP: QB Taylor Martinez. With Rex Burkhead on the sideline in sweats yet again, Nebraska needed every bit of T-Magic the junior could muster. Obviously, there were plenty of T-Muggle moments yesterday, with 3 entirely awful INTs and some bad sacks, but Martinez willed his team to victory in the final minute, and completed his third 4th quarter comeback of the year for the win. And to top it all off, he's already the school leader in career total yards with 1 1/4 seasons still to play, passing Eric Crouch in the first quarter yesterday.
Defensive MVP: Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard. There's some good cornerback genes in the Dennard family. Alfonzo's cousin picked off 2 of Martinez's passes yesterday, snagging a long ball, and jumping a slant intended for Ben Cotton. Had the other corner, Johnny Adams, not leveled Kenny Bell from behind, Dennard's weaving 96 yard INT return would likely have put the game away early in the 4th quarter. The pass interference called on Dennard right before the game winner was iffy in slow motion, but at game speed, it looked like a decent call. Dennard is still my vote for Big 10 defensive player of the week.
Special Teams MVP: Michigan State P Mike Sadler. This dude's got a leg. Sadler put 3 of 7 punts inside the 20, and constantly flipped the field, keeping Nebraska's field's long. If he had taken just a little bit off his last punt and put Nebraska inside their own 5 with a minute left, we might have had a much different result. Good game overall for the kid.
Freshman MVP: LB
David Santos. He was only credited with one tackle, but the freshman LB was instrumental in holding Michigan State's best pass catcher, TE Dion Sims, to one catch for 10 yards. Santos is playing for next year, and his future looks brighter every game.
Assistant Coach of the Game:
Tim Beck. Beck made some bonehead calls, and the Huskers never seemed to settle into a rhythm, but you have to give the head guy credit, he has molded Martinez into a clutch QB, and he clearly knows how to move down the field quickly when we need a score in a hurry. To put 313 yards rushing on Michigan State's bruising defense shows Beck's emerging skill as an offensive mind.
Play of the Game: The only logical choice is Martinez to Turner for the win. Perfect play call, perfect pass, perfect catch, perfect end to a crazy game. Is there a better way to catch your first career TD?
Play We Want Back: Since we can't have the entire 3rd quarter back, I'll go with Kenny Bell's dropped TD. Inside the red zone and facing 3rd and 6, Martinez wafted a beautiful pass that dropped right into Bell's hands as he fell into the endzone. Problem is, the ball kept dropping, right through Bell's hands, hitting the turf between his feet. Maher missed a 30 yard field goal on the next play, and instead of 14-7 Nebraska, 2 minutes later it was 14-7 Michigan State. How different would the game have turned out if Bell hangs onto that pass? We'll never know, but it's easy to think that Nebraska uses the momentum to cruise to a more comfortable win.
I want to see more...
*Takeaways. Yep, this one's still here. Technically Nebraska recovered two fumbles yesterday, but I'm not going to count the lateraloosky on the final kickoff. When a QB only completes 33% of his passes, is it crazy to expect at least 1 INT? Stanley Jean-Baptiste was in good position, but he let Tony Lippett beat him to the ball for a 46 yard TD in the second quarter. Penn State plays much better football than the Spartans, so the Blackshirts will need to be more aggressive next week.
*Credit for Taylor Martinez. The ESPN crews keep talking about him like he's on a lower tier than Braxton Miller and Denard Robinson. The reality is that Martinez is every bit as talented as the other two, but suffers from Nebraska's team breakdowns the last 3 years. If T-Magic finishes his career with a couple Rose Bowl wins, he'll get his due.
*Ameer Abdullah. The super sophomore did a fantastic job beating the ends to the corner and getting 12 yards a pop on several plays. He didn't have as much success inside, but his 110 rushing yards were a great compliment to Martinez's career day. One question: why didn't Braylon Heard and/or Imani Cross get a shot to contribute?
*Justin Jackson. He did a much better job snapping this week, with a few exceptions, but he makes his money pulling, and he was a bulldozer yesterday. Jackson kicks out fast and gets effective blocks to set the edge. Good game for the senior from what I saw.
*T-Magic. Runs of 71, and 70 yards were vintage, but I like that he audibled into the 71 yard TD run (and got a crushing block by Kenny Bell) and stayed composed after 3 INTs and several dropped passes to make some nice throws on the final TD drives. For the record, Tom Brady couldn't throw that end zone slant any better. He's obviously maturing with every game and he's painting an ever more impressive masterpiece to close out the season.
*Blackshirts. Everyone's talking about Michigan State getting robbed with bad calls, but the flags flew both ways yesterday, and Nebraska did a better job responding to the adversity than the Spartans. Aside from a few missed tackles, the Husker's did a decent job shutting down Le'Veon Bell and minus the 46 yard TD to Lippett, Andrew Maxwell didn't have a whole lot of luck either. The Blackshirts buckled down in the 4th quarter after being on the field for most of the 3rd, and gave their offense the time they needed to get the win.
*Games decided before the 4th quarter. I took an aspirin before Nebraska's final drive. I did not have a headache. Good thing my wife knows CPR, I might need it if the Huskers keep this up.
I want to see less...
*Turnovers. Yep, this one's still here too. 3 INTs and a fumble that Jeremiah Sirles was fortunate enough to fall on for a 15 yard gain. How many other teams would be 7-2 with such a disastrous turnover margin?
*T-Muggle. As great as he was at times last night, Martinez made some bad decisions too. On his first interception, he had Quincy Enunwa open shallow, and Bell open deep, but he threw right to the Michigan State defender between them. On his second INT Martinez made a poor decision to throw deep to a well-covered Enunwa, and later he made another poor decision to force a throw to Ben Cotton that was nearly a 96 yard pick six. Martinez also fumbled, and compounded his error by trying to scoop it up and run with it; luckily Sirles was there to bail his QB out. Throw in several other off-target throws and a few bad sacks, and it was a pretty schizophrenic day for Martinez.
*Missed tackles. Safeties Daimion Stafford and PJ Smith combined for 23 tackles, but they both missed on Le'Veon Bell and allowed him to go for big gains. The safeties aren't the only guilty ones, but since they're the last line of defense, they stick out when they miss.
*Dropped Passes. This old bugaboo reared it's ugly head for the first time this year. I suppose we can blame the chilly air just this once.
*Jet Sweeps. Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner both lost yards on this play, while the Spartans had some success early in the game hitting a few sweeps for quick yards.
*Whatever the heck happened in the 3rd quarter. Nebraska had 8 plays for 4 yards in the period as well as the second of 3 interceptions. Defensively, penalties extended Spartan drives (including the egregious call on Stafford for late hit out of bounds), but the Blackshirts forced a fumble, and got a stop inside the 10 yard line, to minimize the effect of the offensive collapse.
*Marks on my wall. Several frustrating turns of events left my walls a little worse for wear. Better the walls than my TV I suppose.
Armchair head coach:
I'm Bo Pelini, facing 2nd and 10 at the MSU 20 yard line with 27 seconds left, I would have had Martinez run to the middle of the field, take a knee, and then spike the ball with about 5 seconds left. That would have been a conservative way to take the game to overtime, and given the way our defense had shut the Spartans down, I'd like to think it would have worked. Bo played it considerably more aggressive, and I don't fault him for that.
Hit of the Game:
PJ Smith got absolutely leveled by Le'Veon Bell in the 4th quarter, very similar to what happened on Bell's first TD, but this time Smith somehow managed to hang on until help arrived and held Bell to a three yard gain. Pretty sure he's still feeling it right now.
Jennifer's Take (my wife doesn't know much about football, but she still has opinions)
"I'm glad Nebraska won, but I don't appreciate what they did to my husband's mood all afternoon."
Yeah, things were a little tense in the Burruss house for a while. I scared the bejeebers out of my one year old son with my reaction to Turner's game winner. I had to change a diaper soon after.
Keeping an eye on the rest of the college football world...
*So Alabama isn't invincible, but if you're an SEC team the only stat that matters is the final score.
*Kansas State had another dominant game against a ranked opponent. I agree with Lee Barfknecht, the Wildcats look a lot like some old Tom Osborne teams. I don't mind cheering for them now that they're no longer ripping Nebraska quarterbacks' heads off.
*Being on the East Coast, I don't get the chance to see Oregon play football often, but I saw a bit of their victory over USC last night, and holy crap. That offense is fast, and they are talented. USC isn't on the same level as Alabama defensively, but I think the Ducks could give the Tide a good game.
*Notre Dame didn't do itself any favors with their 3 OT win over Pitt. The Irish need to win their games decisively to have a chance of leapfrogging Oregon and K-State.
*Georgia has only to beat Auburn on the road to secure their spot in the SEC title game. Sucks to be Florida, who need the Bulldogs to lose that game to get a shot at Alabama.
*Penn State looked really good at Purdue, but a trip to Nebraska should be far more taxing. Bill O'Brien's offense looks like a third string version of the New England Patriots, and his defense is tough, but they'll need some luck in Lincoln.
*Michigan looked good with Devin Gardner at Minnesota. Makes you wonder why he didn't at least get a shot at Nebraska.
*If Indiana beats Wisconsin at home next week, both teams will be 3-3 in the league. Wisconsin finishes with Ohio State and Penn State, the Hoosiers play Penn State and Purdue. A 6-5 Indiana team in the Big 10 championship? It's looking mighty possible.
*Navy rushed for 250 yards on Carl Pelini's FAU Owls, winning 24-17.
*Frank Solich's Ohio team got back on track with a 45-14 beatdown of Eastern Michigan. There's 4 MAC teams with only 1 loss. The Big Ten would kill for that.
Song of the Game
"I'm Coming Home" by Diddy Dirty Money ft. Skylar Grey
"I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Tell the World I’m coming home
Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits and they’ve forgiven my mistakes
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the World that I’m coming..."
Cheesy, I know. But Nebraska is perfect at home this year and they'll need all of that mojo to beat a better-than-you-think Penn State team next weekend. After 3 of the last 4 games on the road, it will be nice to be in the friendly, imposing confines of Memorial Stadium.
Beer of the Game
Amber Ale by Bell's Brewery Inc. Comstock, MI
I figured since the team was going to be in Michigan, my beer taste might as well make the trip as well. This Amber Ale is far superior to the more popular Fat Tire. I like the way the bitterness is balanced with a hint of sweet and most importantly, it finishes clean. This is a really good beer, and at 7 bucks for a 6 pack, you can't argue with the price either.
Every now and then, a commercial comes along that makes you realize that the things you do are pretty darn hilarious. Like this Volkswagen commercial. I do this all the time, I hope nobody's watching...
I really, really hate close games because they make me grumpy. Especially when you see the sort of miscues that we saw yesterday. As long as we're winning however, I will endure. Bo said "Win out." He backed himself into that corner, and we should have known that his teams play their best when they're fighting out of a corner. This team can take all sorts of shots and make all sorts of mistakes and find a way to win. I like that, but now it's time to play a clean game from start to finish and dominate every quarter instead of just the fourth. Can the Huskers do that against a decent Penn State team? We'll see.