On third and three in overtime from MSU’s 18-yard line, Nebraska Quarterback Adrian Martinez looked to attack Michigan State underneath with a slant to Omar Manning to get a first down. The underneath passing attack had been working all game for the Cornhuskers to keep drives alive.
The slant to Manning, however, ended up in the hands of Michigan State cornerback Chester Kimbrough. Kimbrough broke on the pass as soon as the ball left Martinez’s hand, who telegraphed the throw to Manning from the snap, and jumped in front of the receiver and took off the other way with the ball in hand.
The interception ended up being the difference between the Spartans and Huskers in overtime, leading to a narrow 23-20 victory for the Spartans. Kimbrough lined up showing soft coverage on the outside, which MSU had been playing all night, tricking Martinez into throwing what ended up being the game-winning interception for the Spartans.
“I didn’t really see nothin’, I was just playing my coverage,” Kimbrough said. “Just trusting my coverage, trusting my technique.”
Kimbrough, the transfer cornerback from Florida, got his first career interception in green and white when it mattered most, sealing the victory for MSU in a game that seemed very much lost.
MSU’s offense needed every bit of help from the defense to not get blown out tonight after a dismal performance. Michigan State struggled mightily on that side of the ball, scoring 23 points and gaining only 231 yards in regulation but was never out of the game because of the defense generating stop after stop.
This was the first true test and call to action for Michigan State's defense this season. The offense, who averaged over 39 points through three games, did not provide the same kind of scoring support tonight, putting the weight on the defense to keep it a game.
“This is what defense is all about,” Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker said. “It doesn't matter what's going on offensively, your job is to get them stopped. It doesn't matter how long you're out there, you keep going out there.”
Matt Coghlin hit the game-winning field goal on MSU’s overtime possession after the interception and Michigan State escaped Spartan Stadium with a 23-20 victory after being dominated by the Huskers throughout the second half.
“There's still a lot of work to do but it was great,” senior safety Xavier Henderson, who had a career-high 17 tackles tonight, said. “And seeing that kick, I had a lot of confidence in Cogs (Coghlin). I mean this is, what, his 10th year here.”
Michigan State’s defense had to come up with another big stop in overtime after keeping the Spartans in the game throughout the second half. The defense played for 23 of the 30 minutes in the second half, playing 49 total snaps while MSU’s offense played 15, resulting in five three-and-outs.
The snap volume was not a problem for the defense, Henderson and Kimbrough said.
“Oh no no no,” Kimbrough said with a smile on his face when asked if the defense was tired late in the game. “We train harder than anybody else in the country.”
Henderson echoed Kimbrough, saying he felt pretty fresh going into overtime despite the high snap volume. Henderson said that the energy from MSU fans in the stands helped them keep playing hard.
“It was perfect football weather out there and Spartan Nation was out there hyping us up so we felt the juice,” Henderson said.
The defense held strong throughout the onslaught of plays, only allowing 10 points to Martinez and the Cornhuskers’ offense in the second half. The stout defense kept Michigan State within a touchdown, close enough to tie the game in one play.
The most important stop for the Spartan defense came in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. Michigan State’s offense went three-and-out for the fourth consecutive possession after Nebraska took a 20-13 lead on its last possession. Nebraska got the ball back with 6:13 left in the game, looking to ice it once and for all.
Michigan State’s defense was up to the task despite letting Martinez and Nebraska walk down the field for a touchdown on its last possession. The defense forced a three-and-out, setting up the MSU offense to tie the game with 3:47 left.
The offense did not have to do the work though, junior wide receiver Jayden Reed did it for them on the punt return on the following play to tie the game at 20.
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The punt return to tie the game was enough to send the game to overtime, where Kimbrough and the Spartan defense showed up to win the game.
The victory wasn’t pretty, but it was the kind of win that Michigan State needed after cruising through the first three games. The defense had to show up and make big plays and bail out the offense, which it did over and over tonight.
“When you see good teams, they have to win games like this,” Tucker said. “They find a way … it was a team win. But there's a lot of lessons to be learned.”
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