In a drama-filled Saturday night contest at East Lansing, Michigan, Nebraska fell 23-20 in overtime to No. 20 Michigan State to drop to 2-3 (0-2 in Big Ten play).
Up next for Nebraska is a home game against Northwestern at 6:30 p.m. next Saturday. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats are 2-2 and coming off a 35-6 win over a struggling and winless Ohio Bobcats team. Northwestern has had Nebraska’s number lately—it’s 3-1 against the Huskers in the last four contests.
There’s no need to hash over Nebraska’s offensive line. The unit didn’t show improvement against MSU and it continues to be a liability. The players know it, the coaches know it and the fans know it.
The special team miscues and penalties showed up again as well and helped cost the Huskers the win. There were four false starts, including back-to-back mental errors. Deontre Thomas’ sack on third down was negated by an unnecessary roughness penalty when he slammed quarterback Payton Thorne to the grass—he didn’t need to do that.
Since the poor special teams play and mental errors seem like every-week occurrences, there’s no reason to expand on them. Here are three other thoughts on the game:
Erik Chinander and his defense balled out
Keep giving credit to defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s unit, which has stacked four consecutive solid performances on top of each other. Saturday’s outing may have been the best yet considering how important it was for Nebraska to leave East Lansing with a win.
MSU was inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half and came away with six points instead of 14. That was big. It helped keep the Huskers in the game at half, only trailing 13-10.
Yes, the defense bent at times—that 35-yard pitch-and-catch from Payton Thorne to Tre Mosley and that 34-yard rumble from Connor Heyward in the second quarter come to mind—but ultimately the Blackshirts held their ground and kept the Spartans out of the end zone. The flea-flicker fooled no one as safety Myles Farmer simply got burned and fell down trying to cover speedster Jayden Reed.
Nebraska forced six Spartan three-and-outs in the win, five of which came in the second half.
Martinez’s interception in OT doesn’t take away from his performance
There’s nothing else you can say, Martinez’s interception in overtime will haunt him and fans for a long time. But that one play doesn’t take away from his performance as a whole.
For all the wrong that’s happened with an offensive line charged with protecting him, Martinez is giving everything he has in an effort to make up for its shortcomings—and there are a lot of shortcomings. Let’s run down what Martinez did on Saturday night:
— A 45-yard scramble on second-and-13 where he evaded a Spartan blitz and escaped the collapsing havoc around him only to take a heavy shot to his knees out of bounds (it was flagged as a late hit). He was down on the grass for a few seconds before getting up.
— A 12-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 10 with four minutes left.
— Fired a 15-yard dart to Brody Belt between two Spartans for a first down in the fourth quarter—that was after he held on to the ball for too long and was strip-sacked (MSU recovered).
— Ran for a first down on fourth-and-2 on the same drive, which wound up being 11 plays and 80 yards that took over five minutes off the clock. That drive felt big, and it was. He took a big hit on that fourth-down run, but popped up and signaled the first with passion. The Huskers later scored with a 3-yard Martinez rush and he smiled at the MSU student section after crossing the goal line.
The run-first Martinez isn’t perfect—he missed some throws on Saturday and that’s come to be expected. But he was sacked four times in the first half and seven for the game. Whether he’s holding on to the ball for too long or Michigan State’s pass rush simply had its way against a porous Husker o-line, Martinez is mostly taking care of the ball instead of throwing reckless passes down the field while pressured. That’s something worth noting from the fourth-year junior from California.
Good for Connor Culp
In a game where the special teams reeked of bad yet again—Reed returned a Daniel Cerni punt for a 62-yard touchdown that tied the game at 20 with four minutes left in the contest and MSU transfer Will Przystup shanked punts of 28 and 7 yards—Culp was a bright spot.
It’s not common for a kicker to be a storyline coming into a game, but that’s what happened with Culp. After a pull-your-hair-out performance on the road at Oklahoma where he missed two of his three field goal attempts, Culp faced the noise and turned things around at Michigan State. He looked like the reigning Big Ten Kicker of the Year. The LSU transfer looked reliable too, going 2-for-2 with a pair of 28-yard field goals and made both of his extra-point attempts.