Huskers’ turnaround continues with win over Spartans
LINCOLN — Three fourth-quarter field goals by true freshman kicker Barret Pickering won Nebraska its fourth game of the year Saturday, toppling Michigan State 9-6 on a cold, snowy afternoon.
Neither team was able to do much on offense all afternoon. Michigan State took a 6-0 lead in the third quarter, but Pickering was the difference for the Huskers.
On three straight drives in the fourth quarter, Pickering made field goals of 36, 20 and 47 yards. The freshman nailed the career-long 47-yarder with swirling winds in the snow to give Nebraska a 9-6 lead with 5:13 left in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska (4-7) held Michigan State (6-5) at bay in the closing minutes to seal the win.
Adrian Martinez finished the day 16 for 37 on the day for 145 passing yards. Devine Ozigbo ran for 74 against the top run defense in the country. Senior safety Antonio Reed had a career day with seven tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss, an interception, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
Neither team exceeded 300 total yards in what was the lowest scoring Husker game since 2010. Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi finished the day 15 for 41 for 146 passing yards and 53 rushing yards.
After a chippy first half with multiple personal fouls and little offense, the Spartans took a 3-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. Nebraska fumbled four times in the first 30 minutes. Michigan State recovered two of those fumbles but turned neither into points. Nebraska opened the game with a three-and-out, and the Spartans followed that with a 10-play, 50-yard scoring drive that ended in a 34-yard field goal.
Martinez led the Huskers across the 50-yard-line twice, but twice head coach Scott Frost elected to go for it on fourth down, and twice a Martinez pass fell incomplete. Against the top run defense in the country, Nebraska tried to throw, but the cold wind stunted the NU offense, and MSU’s front seven were as advertised, holding NU to 99 total rushing yards in the first and just 248 total yards.
Michigan State was no better with 289 total yards.
Martinez was sacked in the second quarter and put the ball on the turf for NU’s fourth fumble of the day. MSU recovered in the red zone and a 15-yard penalty on Mohamed Barry put the ball at the 12-yard-line for the Spartans. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Michigan State on third down pushed a field goal attempt back 15 yards. The 41-yard try hit the post.
Following that drive, the heat turned up in Lincoln. Michigan State lineman slammed NU corners and tight ends into the ground after plays. Nebraska defensive backs bumped face masks with Michigan State wide receivers.
On the final drive of the half, MSU threatened to score again. Lombardi converted two third downs on the ground. A pass interference on Lamar Jackson moved the ball past the 50. But a heave to the end zone was picked off by Antonio Reed with three seconds remaining, and NU went into the half down 3-0. Reed finished the half with one pick, one forced fumble and one tackle for loss.
Michigan State opened the second half by driving to the 50 but was forced to punt. Morgan misjudged that punt and jumped on a potential fumble before it rolled into the end zone. Snow began to fall as Nebraska’s next possession began at the 2-yard line, but the Huskers couldn’t put together a drive yet again.
The snow stuck around for the rest of the game.
A 36-yard pass play from Lombardi to Connor Heyward jump-started an MSU drive near the end of the third. In the fourth, Lombardi completed a pass to Darrell Stewart on third-and-8. On third-and-goal, Luke Gifford sniffed out a shovel pass forcing another field goal. Kicker Matt Coghlin knocked in a 26-yarder for a 6-0 lead with 12:13 left.
Then, Nebraska finally answered back. Martinez found Morgan for 35 yards in the slot. On fourth-and-9 near the end zone, Frost elected to kick the field goal. Barret Pickering knocked in a 36-yarder to make it 6-3 with 11:07 remaining.
On the second play of Michigan State’s next drive, Reed flew in unblocked and rocked Lombardi, forcing his second fumble on the day. Damion Daniels jumped on the ball. Nebraska got down to the 2-yard-line on an Ozigbo run, but couldn’t get by the stiff MSU defense. Pickering knocked in a 20-yarder for 6-6 with 8:07 left.
Reed knocked away a pass on third down to give Nebraska the ball back on the next MSU drive. Nebraska got into Pickering’s range, and he sent the ball through the uprights for a 9-6 lead, sending Memorial Stadium into a frenzy in the cold.
Michigan State got the ball back with just under four minutes remaining in the game. On third-and-6, Lombardi kept the Spartans alive with an 8-yard run. A third-and-10 pass interference on Lamar Jackson bailed out the Spartans.
On fourth-and-4, UCF transfer Tre Neal knocked a pass away and Nebraska took over on downs. And that was game.