Michigan State football: OT thriller vs. Nebraska shows Spartans are for real
Statistically, it wasn’t their best game of the season, but the Michigan State Spartans found a way to slip by Nebraska, thanks to a lot of help from the visiting Huskers.
The Huskers cost themselves the game when they punted to Spartans star Jaden Reed, who housed the return to knot the game at 20-20 late in the fourth quarter.
The 62-yard TD was set up by a trick look by the Spartans, who essentially baited Nebraska to punt to the wide-open left side, rather than sending the ball to Jalen Nailor, who was on the right side of the field awaiting the kick — or so Nebraska thought at the time.
— CFB Pylon (@TheCFBPylon) September 26, 2021
“It was something that we’ve been working on for about a few weeks now,” Reed said during the postgame press conference, referencing the use of Nailor as a distraction. “It’s something that we had to execute. The coaches called it, so you know … we had a little decoy by Jalen Nailor. [He] took the whole defense that way [pointing toward opposite side of the field] …”
The Spartans have always had a flair for the dramatic, especially during the past 12-15 years. Whether it was a field goal to beat Ohio State on the road, or a Hail Mary to top Wisconsin at home, or a fake FG to down Notre Dame in East Lansing — their recent coaching staffs have always had tricks up their sleeves.
Former coach Mark Dantonio always had something for every crunch-time situation. Evidently, Tucker’s staff also has a flare for the dramatic.
Saturday, Michigan State FG kicker Matt Coghlin added his name to list of late-game heroes by nailing a 21-yarder in overtime, giving the Spartans their fourth win of the season.
A gut-check in every sense of the word, Saturday’s win over the Huskers further proves that the Spartans have heart and should be taken seriously by college football at-large. They’ve beaten two Big Ten opponents (Northwestern, Nebraska) and pulled off a 38-17 road win at Miami, which was then No. 24 in the country.
Undefeated but not yet even close to where they could be in a few weeks, the Spartans certainly deserve some respect for the way they closed against the Huskers — even if the Huskers aren’t that good (which they’re not).
Every team, regardless of how the season finishes, has a bad game or two during the season; it’s all about how a team rebounds and learns, rather than the actual stats. Yes, the Spartans could be picked apart, particularly for their lax defense on Huskers QB Adrian Martinez, who had flashes of brilliance Saturday, or for their one-dimensional running attack that packed very little “oomph” and excitement.
Bottom line: MSU wasn’t clicking at its highest capacity but still completed the task at hand.
That’s a sign of a resilient team.
“It was a team win, but there are a lot of lessons to be learned,” Tucker said during his postgame date with the media. “We talk to our team daily — constantly, all throughout practice and all throughout meetings — about just keep ‘chopping wood,’ ‘play the next play,’ The most important thing is what you do next, and just keep going, keep going, keep going.”
The word “relentless” has been frequently used this season to describe the Spartans, who have surpassed early expectations by quickly establishing themselves as a team to beat in the Big Ten — at least so far, through 4 games.
Tucker wants the Spartans to “keep going, keep going, keep going.”
If they can reach deep when it matters most, continue to run the ball and be efficient on special teams, there is no reason why the Spartans shouldn’t evolve into a favorite to win the Big Ten in the coming weeks — based on their battle-tested attitude and refusal to roll over when times get a little iffy.