EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A thrilling day of college football had to end with a bit of a flair for the dramatic.
After lying down for Michigan State through three quarters, Nebraska came within 37 yards of ending a wild Saturday in the most wild way possible. Cornerback Trae Waynes ended the Huskers' comeback bid with an interception in the final minute and gave Michigan State a 27-22 win at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State's streak of 10 straight conference wins by double-digit margins fell, but the Spartans still haven't lost a league game since November 2012. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah scored twice in the fourth quarter, and De'Mornay Pierson-El returned a punt for a touchdown to come one more big play from erasing a 27-3 deficit in 13 minutes.
In the first 47 minutes, a trademark, physical performance from Mark Dantonio's defense suffocated Abdullah and the Huskers. Nebraska entered the fourth quarter with only 24 rushing yards. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook didn't put up the same kind of prolific numbers -- he finished 11-of-29 for 234 yards and a touchdown -- as he has in recent blowout wins, but he did just enough to render the late push from Nebraska inconsequential. In a season looking like a survive-and-advance march toward the College Football Playoff, Michigan State is still standing.
How the game was won: Michigan State’s defense did not fear Ameer. The Spartans held Nebraska and star running back Abdullah to 47 rushing yards, half of which came in the fourth quarter. The Huskers were too late in finding their stride on offense, while big plays from Tony Lippett (a 55-yard touchdown reception and 32-yard touchdown run) provided enough offense for Sparty.
Game ball goes to: Michigan State’s entire front seven deserves a nod for Saturday’s performance. Not only did that group lock down a Heisman candidate until the fourth quarter, but they also forced two momentum-swinging fumbles and shared five sacks. Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s stay in East Lansing was not a comfortable one.
What it means: Michigan State and Ohio State appear to be in a class of their own at the top of the Big Ten. The West Division is wide open. Current leader: Northwestern. The Huskers still have a good chance of a trip to Indianapolis, but that side of the conference is anybody’s at the moment.
Playoff implications: A win for the Spartans put them back in control of their own destiny. On a Saturday when four unbeaten teams fell, it’s clear one loss won’t be prohibitive for any conference champion this season. If the Spartans run the table and win a Big Ten title, they should expect an invite to the College Football Playoff.
Best play: With Nebraska inside the Michigan State 10 and trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, there was a strong likelihood Abdullah was going to get the ball. On second-and-6, Abdullah charged up the middle, but Ed Davis punched the ball out of Abdullah's hands. Shilique Calhoun recovered and returned it to near midfield, as Nebraska's offense failed to find the end zone in the first half.
What's next: Michigan State can add some style points against Purdue, Indiana and Michigan the next three weeks. The Spartans’ next big test comes after their bye, when they host Ohio State on Nov. 8. Nebraska takes a week off before heading to Evanston, Illinois, to face a suddenly dangerous Northwestern team.