After a sluggish first quarter and a back-and-forth second quarter, No. 20 Michigan State is holding onto a 13-10 halftime lead against the visiting Nebraska Cornhuskers at Spartan Stadium.
It did not take long for redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Throne to get his first turnover of the season. On the fourth play of the game, Thorne took a deep shot but widely missed his target as senior safety Marquel Dismuke snagged the easy interception.
The Spartans' defense stepped up though and responded immediately with its two best pass rushers: graduate students Drew Beesley and Jacub Panasiuk. Both of them burst through the Nebraska offensive line and sacked Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez.
Two plays later facing a third and long, Martinez scrambled but was hit hard by a pair of Spartan defenders. Martinez went back to the locker room, missed Nebraska’s next offensive drive, but returned onto the field at the end of the first quarter.
As the second quarter began, it did not take long for both offenses to get going and finally end the 0-0 tie. For the second time this season, Michigan State dialed up the ole flea-flicker and it worked again with Thorne connecting with redshirt junior wide receiver Jayden Reed for a 35-yard touchdown.
The Cornhuskers answered the Spartans' trick play with an explosive play of its own on the following drive. Initially, it looked like MSU had Martinez where they wanted him, but a pair of missed tackles kept Martinez on his feet. He then turned it up the field and down the left sideline for a gain of 45. Martinez was also hit late out of bounds by sophomore safety Angelo Grose, setting up Nebraska for a first down on Michigan State's nine-yard line.
Additionally, the Spartans lost Beesley on that play, who was carted off the field with what appeared to be a lower right leg injury. He has yet to return to the game.
On the following kickoff, Reed made another big play, setting up MSU's drive at its own 43. The Spartans took advantage of the field position and capped off the drive with a 26-yard field goal by graduate kicker Matt Coghlin.
Yet again, the Cornhuskers answered with Martinez using his legs as a weapon. From 12 yards out, he found a hole up the middle and waltzed into the endzone to tie the game at 10 a piece.
However, it was Michigan State who got the last laugh of the second quarter as Coghlin hit his second chip shot field goal from 27 yards. Then with 16 seconds on the clock, Michigan State took over on the Nebraska 46 thanks to a seven-yard punt by the Cornhuskers. The Spartans were able to get into field goal range for a 44-yard try, but Coghlin's attempt was blocked, keeping MSU's lead at three.
MSU's offensive line has struggled, particularly in the run game in the first quarter. Junior Kenneth Walker III, who going into Saturday led the country in rushing yards, has a pedestrian 12 carries for 37 yards while sophomore Jordon Simmons has been slightly more efficient with three carries for 13 yards. The Spartans also need to improve their redzone execution to turn the field goals into touchdowns.
Defensively, the Spartans' secondary has been sound for the most part. The team has found itself in trouble with Martinez extending plays and weaponizing his legs. MSU will have to do a better job containing him in the pocket in the second half.
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