By Steve Beideck
EAST LANSING, Michigan – Nebraska’s hope of getting a sixth victory to become bowl eligible for the first time in seven seasons is on hold for another week as the Huskers offense produced just one touchdown drive in the first 56 minutes of Saturday’s 20-17 loss to Michigan State.
The 5-4 Huskers squandered their chance at their sixth win mostly because of an ineffective run game in which nearly 28 percent of its net total of 154 yards came on one rushing play late in the fourth quarter.
That play was a 43-yard scramble by quarterback Heinrich Haarberg. It set up a 4-yard TD run by freshman running back Emmitt Johnson on the ensuing play that got Nebraska to within 20-17.
Even with another three-and-out defensive stop by the Blackshirts, and another 10-yard assist from the MSU defense on a holding call, there was no miraculous finish in the cards for the Huskers. The aim was to get the ball in position for kicker Tristan Alvano to attempt a field goal
and force overtime, but the Huskers never got close to field goal range in its last two possessions as precious seconds ticked away.
Instead, a beleaguered Michigan State squad, on a six-game losing streak, playing for an interim head coach and relying on a pair of freshman quarterbacks, picked up its third win in nine games before an announced crowd of 63,134 at Spartan Stadium.
At the end, when Nebraska had a slight chance, but a chance nonetheless, to steal the game, the Spartans defense bowed up one last time and snuffed any hope of overtime or a Hail Mary play succeeding.
Following a 9-yard completion to Malachi Coleman from the NU 27, Haarberg threw an incompletion, but the Spartans gave Nebraska a first down with the holding call.
As he was much of the game, Haarberg was under siege by the Spartans’ front seven. The sophomore was nearly sacked before fumbling the ball, which was covered by teammate Bryce Benhart for an 18-yard loss.
With the final seconds being counted down, Haarberg tried a desperation pass before time ran out. The ball was
batted down by linebacker Jordan Hall and NU’s three-game winning streak was over.
The Blackshirts did their part, limiting Michigan State to just 63 yards rushing and 295 total yards. But this time they couldn’t bail out the struggling offense that finished with just 129 passing yards.
For several reasons, Haarberg again struggled as a thrower. He completed just 12 of his 28 passes and had two interceptions to go with his lost fumble that ended Nebraska’s best chance of a comeback with 2:32 remaining in regulation.
Nebraska held its only lead at 7-3 when Haarberg scored on a 5-yard run to successfully end a 10-play, 59-yard drive early in the second quarter. A 24-yard field goal by Alvano with six seconds to go in the first half tied the game 10-10 at intermission.
A 51-yard field goal by Jonathan Kim in the third quarter and a 25-yard pass from Sam Leavitt to Montorie Foster with less than three minutes gone in the fourth put Michigan State ahead 20-10.
Johnson led Nebraska’s rushers with 57 yards on 13 carries. Haarberg finished with a net of 37 yards, but also
lost 38 yards on sacks or getting stood up by the middle of the Michigan State line.
Nebraska will try to begin a new winning streak Nov. 11 with an 11 a.m. CST home game against Maryland that will be broadcast on NBC’s streaming Peacock service.