EAST LANSING, Mich. — Cheeks flushed, eyes on fire, Bo Pelini refused in the moment to see the bright side of a frustrating Saturday night.
“I’m not into moral victories,” the coach said after Nebraska’s 27-22 loss at No. 10 Michigan State.
Even if the Huskers had rallied from a 27-3 deficit to have a final drive to win. Even if wide receiver Alonzo Moore nearly cradled the game-winning touchdown in the corner of the end zone. Even if NU’s defense forced nine punts and two turnovers and De’Mornay Pierson-El took a punt for a touchdown. He wouldn’t take the bait. Perhaps he couldn’t. Another blown chance to take the Big Ten by the horns.
“We lost the football game,” he said. “We need to get better.”
Corrective item No. 1: An offense that, until a few harried drives at the end, put on a follies show. Drops. Poor throws. Snap gaffes between quarterback Tommy Armstrong and center Mark Pelini. A running game that gained 47 yards on 37 carries. An offensive line that gave up five sacks and many more hurries. Pelini initially said it was “pretty obvious” how the line had played. He was pressed again a minute later.
“I don’t care what your plan is when you’re getting your butt kicked,” he said.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck, pulling a small luggage bag behind him, declined comment. He has not spoken for several weeks.
In a first half that’d be so easy to forget if it weren’t the primary reason NU lost, the offense also declined comment. And opportunities. Gifts handed to it in the cold, spitting rain.
» The Huskers got an interception on the game’s second play when Vincent Valentine deflected a Connor Cook pass into Randy Gregory’s arms. NU started at the MSU 30, lost one yard in three plays and elected to punt instead of going for it on fourth down or kicking a field goal.
» Valentine forced Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford to fumble midway through the second quarter. NU started at MSU’s 42 and got a first down before an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Mike Moudy set the Huskers back, triggering a punt.
» Spartan punt returner Macgarrett Kings muffed that punt. NU recovered and started at the MSU 24. Star back Ameer Abdullah — who gained just 45 yards on 24 punishing carries — coughed up a fumble inside the Spartan 10 that was returned to near midfield. Michigan State turned that mistake into a field goal, which gave it a 17-0 halftime cushion.
Why did Nebraska’s offense, so dominant for weeks, disappear?
“I feel like we didn’t really have much emotion in the first half,” wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp said.
“I put the lack of running game on myself — I didn’t hit the creases where I needed to and that’s on me,” Abdullah said.
“We just got scrambled,” said Armstrong, who briefly left the game with an injury before returning in the fourth quarter. “(Like) we didn’t know what we were doing.”
Nebraska’s defense did appear to have its bearings, but it gave up big plays that went for scores. Wide receiver Tony Lippett scored on a 55-yard double-move reception for MSU’s first score. Langford ran 31 yards for the second. And Lippett gave the Spartans a 27-3 lead late in the third quarter on a 32-yard double reverse. The hole seemed insurmountable.
But, aided with several personal foul and defensive penalties on Michigan State, Nebraska fought back.
“Our team’s going to fight,” Pelini said. “That’s who these kids are.”
Abdullah bulled his way in from two yards out with 12:49 left in the game to cut the lead to 27-9. What looked like a sure Pick Six for Michigan State turned into a 41-yard gain for Westerkamp and, later, another touchdown for Abdullah. Then, after NU got another stop, Pierson-El returned a punt 62 yards for a score. NU missed its second two-point try of the game and trailed 27-22.
With 3:22 left and no timeouts, Pelini chose to try an onside kick. Michigan State recovered, but missed a field goal. That left Armstrong 67 seconds to go 80 yards.
He got 43 of those yards on a deep throw to Moore. On the next play from MSU’s 37, Armstrong threw again to Moore on what appeared to be the same route. He caught — and bobbled — the ball slightly out of bounds, and it popped free.
“I couldn’t see over in the corner,” Pelini said. “I know it was close.”
Armstrong’s next pass was intercepted by MSU corner Trae Waynes. Pelini said one of NU’s wideouts was knocked off his route by a Spartan defender. No flag was thrown.
“Maybe I was the only one who saw that,” Pelini said.
“The referees are human,” Westerkamp said.
As is Nebraska, which falls to 5-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten. The Huskers could still win the Big Ten West and play the Spartans in Indianapolis for the conference title. In fact, it’s what Armstrong expects to happen.
“It’s not the last time they’re going to see us, I can promise you that,” Armstrong said. “We plan on going 11-1, making the Big Ten championship and playing Michigan State again.”
|Yards per carry||4.3||1.3|
Nebraska is 9-2 all-time against Michigan State.
|Florida Atlantic||Aug. 30|
|McNeese State||Sept. 6|
|Fresno State||Sept. 13|
|Miami (FL)||Sept. 20|
|Michigan State||Oct. 4|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 4. See them all »
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