Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 10/29/11
In college football, what goes up one week often comes down the next. Just ask Michigan State. Seven days earlier, the Spartans felt the euphoria of a last-second Hail Mary victory, but on Saturday they looked like a totally different team while getting shut down in a 24-3 loss at Nebraska. It was Michigan State's fewest points in 95 games, since losing none other than the same Cornhuskers, 17-3, in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. Fifth-year senior quarterback Kirk Cousins completed just 11 of 27 passes for 86 yards with one interception. Senior B.J. Cunningham, the school's all-time leading receiver, was held without a reception for the first time in 42 games, since the third game of his freshman season. Cousins had been averaging nearly 230 yards passing a game this season while Cunningham was averaging more than 103 yards in receptions. In all, No. 11 Michigan State had 187 yards offensively, about 200 fewer than its season average. And this was all against a Nebraska defense that was dominated in a 48-17 loss to Wisconsin earlier this month. The Spartans appeared to run out of gas after back-to-back emotional victories over No. 4 Wisconsin last week and No. 10 Michigan two weeks ago. It ended a challenging month that also included a victory at Ohio State before a bye week. A 3-1 record against those opponents is more than respectable, but MSU had a chance to take a big step toward a spot in the Big Ten championship game with one more victory. Instead, the loss creates a major logjam at the top of the Big Ten's Legends Division with at least three of the six teams MSU, Nebraska and Michigan tied for first place at 3-1 in the conference. Iowa needed a victory over Minnesota late Saturday afternoon to make it a four-way deadlock. The Spartans (6-2) remain the favorite based on the schedule. MSU's toughest matchup remaining is in two weeks at Iowa. The other three games are against Minnesota and Indiana at home, and at Northwestern. Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern are 5-20 combined. Meanwhile, No. 13 Nebraska (7-1) still plays at Penn State and Michigan, and also faces Northwestern and Iowa at home. Michigan, which arguably has the most difficult route, plays its next two on the road against Iowa and Illinois before finishing at home against Nebraska and Ohio State. After the two home games against Michigan and Michigan State the next two weeks, Iowa closes out with road games against Purdue and Nebraska. "We've got to regroup, handle the adversity that's thrown at us," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said during his post-game radio show. "We're going to regroup. That's been the measure of this football team since we've been here. We've always come back out after a tough deal. We've always responded. We'll do that again." Michigan State trailed 10-3 at halftime, although signs of the letdown were evident. Nebraska seized control in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns and keeping the ball for more than 11 minutes while MSU ran only eight offensive plays. Nebraska running Rex Burkhead rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries. He also caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taylor Martinez, who completed only seven passes for 80 yards. While Michigan State benefited from video review for the winning touchdown against Wisconsin, it worked against the Spartans this time. Officials originally ruled Burkhead fumbled at the goal line -- with MSU recovering -- on the first possession of the third quarter. But the call was reversed, giving Burkhead a 1-yard touchdown, based on the replay. So the good karma didn't last for the Spartans. Neither did the discipline. After not being called for a penalty last week, they were charged with nine totaling 90 yards this week. Several were extremely costly, helping keep Nebraska drives alive. Once the Cornhuskers took a three-touchdown lead, it was over. They could have played all night and Michigan State's offense wasn't going to solve the Nebraska's defense, which was flying around like the famed "Blackshirts." "They took away our passing game," Dantonio said. "They pressured the quarterback. It was noticeable. You couldn't stand in the pocket. They took away certain routes. They walled up the wide receivers on verticals. They took B.J. out of the game a little bit, I thought." It was just what Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has been waiting all season to see out of his defense. "I think they saw today what we're capable of doing when they play the right way," Pelini said during his postgame news conference. "We communicated. We made our checks. We were on the same page. The guys took the preparation to the field. They recognized things. "We made a big step today as a defense. It was fun to watch." Not for Dantonio.
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