EAST LANSING - The Michigan State Spartans have lost close games this season, but none of their previous four defeats were as heartbreaking and controversial as their 28-24 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday.
The game appeared to be in hand after the Spartans followed up a one-yard Le’Veon Bell touchdown run early in the fourth quarter with a 96-yard interception return by Darqueze Dennard. Unfortunately, the pick-six was called back as a result of a questionable personal foul penalty and the Spartans’ defense gave up 14 points in the final seven minutes of the game in their fourth home loss of 2012.
“I don’t know what the problem was, but I guess you are not allowed to block on defense. You can only block on offense,” Michigan State’s defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said in a post-game press conference. “Officials try to officiate the best they can. I guess they saw it that way, from the booth I didn’t see it that way.”
The Spartans did have other chances to put this game away early, though. Bell capped a 10 play, 68-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to give Michigan State a 7-0 lead with 4:28 remaining in the first quarter.
The Cornhuskers needed just five plays to strike back as junior quarterback Taylor Martinez broke off a 59-yard run to set Nebraska up with a first down and goal to go from inside Michigan State’s five-yard line.
Martinez connected with sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah two plays later to tie the game at 7-7 late in the opening quarter.
After Nebraska’s senior kicker Brett Maher missed a 30-yard field goal early in the second quarter, the momentum shifted the Spartans’ way and junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell burned the Cornhuskers with a 46-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wideout Tony Lippett.
Michigan State led 14-7 for a little more than two minutes before Martinez eluded the Spartans’ defense with a 71-yard touchdown scamper with just 3:11 remaining in the first half.
The Spartans drove 68 yards on the opening possession of the second half, which ended with a 25-yard field goal from fifth-year senior kicker Dan Conroy to put Michigan State back on top 17-14.
Michigan State’s defense shut down Martinez and the Cornhuskers in the third quarter, which also led to an interception deep in Nebraska territory by Dennard.
Bell punched in a one-yard touchdown run to put the Spartans up 24-14 early in the fourth quarter.
On Nebraska’s first play of the following drive, Martinez fumbled the ball only to have it recovered by one of his teammates for a gain of 15 yards, which aided the Cornhuskers’ drive that later ended on the controversial interception return by Dennard.
Four plays and less than two minutes later, the Cornhuskers took over near midfield and Martinez proved to have plenty of magic left in his legs as the Corona, Calif., native found the end zone for a second time on a 35-yard run.
The game ultimately came down to the final 3:12 in which the Spartans elected to run the ball five consecutive times in an attempt to burn Nebraska’s timeouts and limit Nebraska’s chances of tying the game with a late field goal.
The plan backfired, though, as the Michigan State defense gave up a 22-yard pass, failed to stop the Cornhuskers on a fourth down and 10 and eventually lost the game on a five-yard touchdown pass form Martinez to Jamal Turner that was set up by a spotty pass interference call against Dennard in the corner of the end zone.
“There are a lot of calls I would like to take a look at,” Narduzzi said. “I got a look at it up there; didn’t look that good from up there, but who am I to judge? It didn’t look good.
“Our kids fight their tails off. I feel bad for the kids more than anybody because it hurts. They play their tails off and we just keep coming up short. Again, we will learn from it and become stronger as a football team.”
There could not be a better time for the Spartans to have a bye week in order to take some time away from football before coming back re-focused and prepared for a difficult match up at Spartan Stadium against the Northwestern Wildcats on Nov. 17th.
The kick off time for the Michigan State vs. Northwestern game has not been announced, but be sure to check the Spartan Sports Network for any updates regarding the Spartans’ final home game of the season.