The Michigan State Football team picked up its first victory since the second week of September and the first win of interim head coach Harlon Barnett's tenure, snapping a six game losing streak in a 20-17 win over Nebraska Saturday afternoon.
It wasn’t a pretty performance, but the Spartans took care of business behind a resilient effort from the defense as they created three turnovers. There were flashes shown on offense as well to put together one of the most complete performances of the season for the green and white.
MSU received the ball to begin the game, looking to establish themselves on offense for the afternoon. Redshirt freshman quarterback Katin Houser got the start once again for the fourth straight week.
The first drive for the Spartans brought some much needed sparks. Houser looked composed to start, finding freshman tight end Brennan Parachek for a 17-yard gain. On the next play, the crowd erupted with cheers as Houser launched the ball downfield to a wide open receiver as sixth year tight end Jaylan Franklin put together a catch and run for 46 yards to put Michigan State in the red zone.
Familiar struggles made their appearance once again however, as the drive stalled thanks to two incompletions from houser. MSU failed to capitalize with prime field position once again, and had to settle for the field goal try. Redshirt senior kicker Jonathan Kim nailed the 35-yard kick through the uprights to put the Spartans up 3-0 to begin the game.
Nebraska got the ball for the first time following the score, but failed to generate much action. Michigan State’s defense came out firing, forcing a three and out thanks to a big hit from redshirt freshman defensive back Caleb Coley for a loss of three yards on second down to force a third and long.
The Cornhuskers responded well on their second drive, however. The rushing game has worked well for Nebraska all year, and they took advantage of it led by three different backs. MSU forced a fourth down, but Cornhusker sophomore quarterback Heinrich Haarberg kept the ball on the sneak and picked up the first. Three plays later, Haarberg unloaded a deep ball on a blown coverage by the Spartans, but the ball ended up in sophomore defensive back Jaden Mangham’s hands for the interception as it was nowhere near a receiver.
Freshman quarterback Sam Leavitt saw his first action of the game following the Nebraska turnover. A three and out was all that resulted from the drive though, as the Spartans were forced to punt from inside their own ten-yard line.
After MSU punted the ball, Nebraska started to find its rhythm on offense. Haarberg responded nicely in the air as he found sophomore tight end Thomas Fidone II wide open for a 27-yard gain to get past midfield. The Cornhuskers continued to shove the ball on the ground as redshirt freshman running back Emmet Johnson put together a rush of 11 yards followed by eight more yards to set up first and goal. Haarberg then kept the ball for the quarterback run and punched the ball into the endzone on second down to put Nebraska up 7-3 in the second quarter.
With Michigan State needing a response to keep themselves in the game, the Spartans decided to pull out some trickery. Houser threw the ball behind himself to senior wide receiver Alante Brown, allowing him to throw the ball. Brown did just that, throwing downfield to senior wide receiver Montorie Foster Jr. which fooled the defense for a 42-yard gain. A rush by houser set up second down. Houser evaded the defense and found redshirt junior wide receiver Christian Fitzpatrick in the back of the end zone to put MSU back on top 10-7.
Fitzpatrick’s catch was his first career touchdown. Fitzpatrick had nine receptions for 180 yards this season coming into the game, and finally gets his milestone in his third season with the team.
On the final drive of the half for the Cornhuskers, Michigan State couldn’t seem to catch a break. A penalty was called on the Spartans three straight times, allowing Nebraska to get into the redzone. A holding on MSU also negated another Mangham interception off of Haarberg. As a result, the Cornhuskers had to settle for a field goal, tying the game at ten entering halftime.
Nebraska received the ball to begin the second half and got to midfield, but the Spartan defense held their own and forced a punt. MSU took over, and immediately started the drive with fireworks as Houser found sophomore wide receiver Tyrell Henry on the crossing route for a gain of 28 yards to the MSU 42-yard line. A few solid completions from Houser moved the ball well, but Michigan State decided to run the ball with redshirt sophomore running back Nate Carter on a third and nine, failing to convert.
Kim came on for the field goal attempt, this time from 50 yards out. Kim’s kick was good once again, and the Spartans regained the lead, going up 13-10.
Michigan State’s defense came alive on the afternoon, getting the best of Haarberg in the backfield. MSU combined for six sacks as a team with redshirt senior defensive lineman Maverick Hansen leading the way with one and a half sacks.
Leavitt saw his second bit of action on MSU’s first drive of the fourth quarter. Leavitt’s use of his legs continued to help the Spartans move the ball. Just as the rushing threat was posed, Leavitt went to the air to Montorie Foster Jr. to the end zone. Foster Jr. got bumped by the defense and the safety came lurking in, but Leavitt’s pass was perfectly placed, resulting in a 25 yard score to put Michigan State up 20-10 with 12 minutes left.
Nebraska made their best effort to generate a comeback, but MSU’s defense was too much to handle for Haarberg. Redshirt sophomore Khalil Majeed came down with an interception with six minutes left in the game to essentially seal the victory for the Spartans.
The Cornhuskers weren’t ready to go away quite yet though. A Haarberg completion for 18 yards to sophomore wide receiver Alex Bullock advanced the ball to the MSU 47-yard line. Two plays later, Michigan State brought the pressure in the backfield, but Haarberg escaped the pocket and had nothing but green grass in front of him, rushing for 43 yards inside the five. Johnson punched the ball in the end zone on the next play for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 20-17.
Michigan State recorded a three and out, giving the ball back to Nebraska for a potential game winning drive. On third down, Haarberg tried to create room, but freshman defensive lineman Jalen Thompson reached home for the sack and forced a fumble, allowing redshirt junior linebacker Cal Haladay to recover to give the Spartans the ball back.
Nebraska used the last of their timeouts, and MSU couldn’t pick up a first down to seal the game completely. Kim came on the field for a 44-yard field goal attempt. The Cornhuskers got pressure on the boot from the edge, and Kim pushed it wide right, keeping it a three point game.
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With 43 seconds on the clock, Nebraska had one last chance to win the game. A defensive holding call put the ball on the Cornhusker 46-yard line, but they were unable to move the ball anymore as the Spartans held on for the win.
MSU will hit the road away from Spartan Stadium for the rest of the season, and will travel to Columbus next week to take on No 1. ranked Ohio State.
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