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The Nebraska defense held Michigan State without a first down in second-half regulation, but the Huskers fell 23-20 in overtime at No. 20 Michigan State on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.
The Blackshirts shut out the Spartans in the first and third quarters, and the only MSU score in the fourth quarter came on a 62-yard Jayden Reed punt return touchdown that tied the game at 20.
At the time, the defense had held Michigan State (4-0, 2-0 Big Ten) to five total yards of offense in the second half.
The punt return touchdown and ensuing extra point were enough to send the game to overtime after Nebraska had held a 20-13 fourth-quarter lead and the ball with four minutes remaining in the game.
Adrian Martinez, who completed 24-of-34 passes for 248 yards in the game and rushed 20 times for 65 yards including both of Nebraska’s scores, threw a third-down interception on NU’s opening possession of overtime. MSU defensive back Chester Kimbrough returned the pick 62 yards, before Martinez made a desperate sliding tackle attempt in front of three Spartans that allowed center Cam Jurgens to chase down Kimbrough.
The Blackshirts gave up their only first down after halftime on Kenneth Walker III’s 23-yard run to the NU 2 on MSU’s first offensive play after the interception. But the defense backed Walker and the Spartans up one yard on the next two plays before Matt Coghlin kicked a 21-yard game-winning field goal. It was Coghlin’s third field goal of less than 30 yards in the game. Walker, one of the nation’s leading rushers, was held to just 39 yards on 16 carries in regulation by the Blackshirts.
Nebraska, which slipped to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten with its third road loss by one score, trailed 13-10 at halftime with all the scoring for both teams coming in the second period. The Huskers tied the score on their first possession of the third quarter on Connor Culp’s second field goal of the game. Culp’s kick capped a 14-play, 60-yard drive that consumed the first 5:50 of the second half.
The Huskers continued to build offensive momentum as Adrian Martinez jogged into the end zone early in the fourth quarter to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive to give Nebraska its first lead of the game at 20-13 with 7:29 left in regulation.
The Blackshirts continued to dominate, forcing three-and-outs by Michigan State on every second-half possession.
However, Michigan State ruled the field position game on the night. In the first half, Will Przystup closed with a 7-yard punt that gave MSU an opportunity for a late field goal attempt that would have pushed the margin to 16-10 going into the locker room. Instead, the Huskers blocked the attempt and went to halftime down three.
With four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Daniel Cerni, who had relieved Przystup, booted a short punt toward the left hashmark as Nebraska’s punt coverage team ran in pursuit of a punt apparently intended to head toward the right hash. MSU’s Jayden Reed caught the ball and sprinted 62 yards untouched into the end zone.
On the night, Nebraska punted seven times for an average of 32.7 yards, while Michigan State punter Bryce Baringer boomed six punts for an average of 58.8 yard. In addition to the 124-yard edge in the punt game, MSU had three kickoff returns for 84 yards, the 62-yard punt return for the game-tying touchdown and a 62-yard interception return to set up the winning score in overtime.
The massive edges in special teams and return yardage (320 yards) were enough to overcome Nebraska’s overall edge in total offense, which was 440-254 on the night.
In addition to 313 yards of total offense from Martinez for the Huskers, Rahmir Johnson led all rushers in the game with 19 carries for 76 yards. Sevion Morrison added three carries for 15 yards. Zavier Betts led the Husker receivers with five catches for 62 yards. Samori Toure had five catches for 40 yards. while Austin Allen and Omar Manning also notched four receptions while
Reed did the most damage for the Spartans in the game, hauling in five receptions for 59 yards including a 35-yard touchdown catch on a second-quarter flea-flicker that gave the Spartans a 7-0 lead. Reed also had two kick returns for 69 yards and a carry for two yards to finish with 192 all-purpose yards on just nine touches. Fellow receiver Tre Mosley added six catches for a game-high 70 yards.
The Blackshirts completely shut down MSU quarterback Payton Thome in the second half, as he finished with 14 completions on 23 attempts for 183 yards in the game. He also carried seven times for minus-5 yards.
Luke Reimer led the Blackshirts with 11 total tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a half-sack. Nick Henrich pitched in nine stops and half a sack, while Garrett Nelson was a disruptive force in the second half and finished with six tackles and two tackles for loss with one sack.
Xavier Henderson led the Spartan defense with 17 tackles.
Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln next Saturday to take on Northwestern. The Homecoming game for the Big Red is set to kick off at 6:30 p.m. with live television coverage provided by the Big Ten Network.
#20 Michigan State 23
Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021
Spartan Stadium (East Lansing, Mich.)
Second Quarter (MSU, 13-10)
MSU – 14:08 – Jayden Reed 35 pass from Payton Thome (Matt Coghlin kick), 3 plays, 55 yards, 0:52, MSU 7-0
NEB – 11:22 – Connor Culp 28 FG, 7 plays, 65 yards, 2:46, MSU 7-3
MSU – 8:20 – Coghlin 26 FG, 6 plays, 49 yards, 2:54, MSU 10-3
NEB – 4:20 – Adrian Martinez 12 run (Culp kick), 9 plays, 75 yards, 4:00, 10-10
MSU – 1:03 – Coghlin 27 FG, 9 plays, 61 yards, 3:11, MSU 13-10
Third Quarter (13-13)
NEB – 9:10 – Culp 28 FG, 14 plays, 60 yards, 5:50, 13-13
Fourth Quarter (20-20)
NEB – 7:29 – Martinez 3 run (Culp kick), 11 plays, 80 yards, 5:05, NEB 20-13
MSU – 3:47 – Reed 62 punt return (Coghlin kick), 20-20
MSU – 0:00 – Coghlin 21 FG, MSU 23-20
Kickoff: 6:10 p.m. (CT)
Length of Game: 3:41