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November 3, 2012
Final Take: Championship runs can be defined by breaks
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Every championship type season has them.
I don't care what sport you are talking about at what level. Championship runs often times can be defined by special plays and special moments.
Nebraska has had a handful of them this season. A 17 point comeback against Wisconsin, a 12 point fourth quarter comeback at Northwestern, a second quarter injury to Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and now add another - a 10 point fourth quarter comeback at Michigan State.
The Huskers seized control of the Legends Division on Saturday with their 28-24 come from behind victory in East Lansing. It was one for the ages - one that could define this season.
It was the Big Ten's best offense against the Big Ten's best defense. In the end it was Tim Beck and the Husker offense that left Spartan Stadium with one of the more meaningful wins we've seen in the Bo Pelini era.
"In the last couple of weeks I feel like I've aged about 20 years," Pelini said.
It's almost comical to follow a Husker game on Twitter and the message boards. At one point every Husker fan is ready to give up on this team, and then the next thing you know it Nebraska finds another way to make a fourth quarter comeback.
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis has been around his fair share of championship runs over the years and he understands that a few balls need to bounce your way in order to get the job done.
"The teams that I have been on that have been able to make that run, you have to find a way to win a couple of these games," Papuchis said. "This is two games where we've gone on the road, which in the Big Ten we're finding out is not an easy thing to do. They're all fist fights. We find a way to win the game.
"Statistics and all that stuff you can throw out the window. Find a way to have more points than the other team and at the end of the day stay on track to what you want to get done. I think today is another great example of that."
Wide receiver Kenny Bell said Saturday's fourth quarter comeback is a reflection of how mentally strong this football team is.
"Any time you are talking about a championship season, any game is just as important as the last, if not more important," Bell said. "The breaks we got and the plays we got towards the end of that game today really is a reflection of what we've been harping on all year on how we've been growing as a team. You put us in that situation last year or two years ago the outcome may not have been the same."
What I saw on Saturday
***Both Beck and Papuchis said the staff went back and forth about going for that game winning touchdown call with 11 seconds left on the clock. Papuchis made a great point that any offensive penalty by Nebraska would've resulted in a 10 second runoff and game over. That makes Pelini's decision to go for the win that much gutsier.
***Beck tipped his hat to MSU cornerback Darqueze Dennard on his second half interception on Martinez. Beck said Dennard was in man-to-man coverage on another receiver and for him to guess right and run that play down for an interception was big time.
***Papuchis was obviously not pleased with the play of the defense, but at the end of the day you take the win any way you can get it.
"Just some dumb unforced errors on our part, but we cleaned it up at the end the game and stood up when we had to," Papuchis said.
***After the game was over with defensive end Eric Martin picked up Martinez and carried him off the field. Martin is Martinez's closest friend and it was a special moment for the two roommates.
***Running backs coach Ron Brown said there was some truth to the speculation that Ameer Abdullah hurt his ankle in practice on Thursday.
"He had a little tweak," Brown said of Abdullah. "It didn't faze him though."
***Brown also said that sophomore Braylon Heard was available to play, but the flow of the game just didn't allow him to get in. Hard to argue that, considering NU for 348 yards - the most MSU has allowed in over seven years.
"It wasn't an injury with Braylon (Heard)," Brown said. "You don't want to be changing backs all the time just to get guys reps. I go with who I think has a hot hand and a feel for things. We just couldn't get him in a whole lot. It's one of those things I don't predetermine."
The final grades
Rushing offense: A
Martinez and Nebraska added some new wrinkles to their ground game on Saturday and the Huskers were able to net 313 yards on 40 carries. Coming into today Michigan State was only giving up 91 yards per game on the ground and leading the Big Ten. It was the most rushing yards a Michigan State defense has given up in seven years.
Passing offense: C
Obviously you have to downgrade Martinez for the three interceptions, but his fourth quarter heroics bring the overall grade up to a C. A nine play drive for 80 yards with no timeouts and 1:20 left on the clock has to be worth something. That may be one of the best fourth quarter drives Nebraska has had in program history, considering they were facing a top 10 nationally rated defense.
Rushing defense: D
The Huskers really struggled with their run fits and missed a lot of open field tackles. Le'Veon Bell finished with 188 yards rushing on 36 carries to go along with two touchdowns. When Bell goes for that type of yardage Michigan State rarely loses.
Passing defense: B-
MSU quarterback Andrew Maxwell was just 9-of-27 for 123 yards passing, but he did make a big play on his 46 yard touchdown pass to Tony Lippett, which was thrown into triple coverage. The ball should've been knocked down. Nebraska also struggled to create pressure on Maxwell with their front four, but when it mattered they found ways to get stops.
Special teams: D
Brett Maher missed a field goal and shanked a punt in the first quarter for 16 yards. The Huskers only got one decent return on a punt or a kickoff. The special teams did very little to help Nebraska in terms of field position and points.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.