Another fourth-quarter road rally. Another Big Ten win.
In its most dramatic in a series second-half comebacks in conference play, No. 21 Nebraska rallied from 10 points down in the final eight minutes to knock off Michigan State, 28-24, at Spartan Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez lofted a heavenly pass to the left side of the end zone for sophomore wide receiver Jamal Turner from five yards out with six ticks left on the clock to secure Nebraska's fourth conference win.
In the latest in a series of historic come-from-behind victories, Martinez's clutch connection with Turner moved the 2012 Huskers to 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten. It also secured NU's third double-digit, second-half comeback in four Big Ten victories, following a 12-point fourth-quarter rally at Northwestern on Oct. 27, and a 17-point third-quarter comeback against Wisconsin in NU's Big Ten home opener on Sept. 29.
The pass also completed a monster day for the junior quarterback from Corona, Calif., against one of the nation's stingiest defenses. The Spartans entered the contest allowing just 91.2 rushing yards per game through the first nine contests and only 267 yards of total offense and 15 points per contest.
Martinez personally accounted for 205 rushing yards and two scores, while throwing for 160 yards and two more touchdowns against the Spartans. Sophomore I-back Ameer Abdullah accounted for another 110 yards on the ground for the Big Red, his fifth 100-yard rushing effort of the season, as Nebraska amassed 313 rushing yards against MSU for the day.
The Huskers rolled up 473 total yards against the Spartans for the game, including 214 in the fourth quarter alone. Michigan State finished with 361 total yards, but just 30 in the final period.
Despite accounting for 365 yards of total offense and having a hand in all four of Nebraska's scores, Martinez's day was full of ups and downs. He went just 16-for-36 through the air against MSU, and was victimized by three interceptions, including two in the second half by Darqueze Dennard.
But as Martinez has proven time and time again over the past month in Big Ten play, he has the ability to overcome adversity and lead the Huskers to victory.
On Nebraska's second offensive drive of the day, Martinez marched the Huskers to the Michigan State 21, but on 2nd-and-22 from the MSU 33, he was picked off by Kurtis Drummond. The Spartans converted the interception into points, rolling 68 yards in 10 plays capped by Le'Veon Bell's 11-yard rumble into the end zone. Bell finished the day with 188 yards on 36 carries to go along with two touchdowns.
Michigan State took a 7-0 lead with 4:28 left in the quarter and did not trail in the game until Nebraska's final offensive play of the game.
It didn't take long for Martinez to atone for the interception. After Abdullah rushed for 12 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, Martinez sprinted 59 yards to the MSU 4 on the next play - his first of three long runs on the afternoon. Martinez then connected with Abdullah on a two-yard touchdown pass two plays later to tie the score with 2:07 left in the first quarter.
Martinez marched the Huskers again on their opening drive of the second quarter, but the Huskers stalled at the MSU 13, and Brett Maher uncharacteristically missed on a 30-yard field goal attempt to keep the score tied.
But not for long, as MSU's battering ram running back Bell carried three times for 49 yards on the first three plays of MSU's ensuing drive. Then Spartan quarterback Andrew Maxwell hit Tony Lippett on a 46-yard strike between double-coverage in the end zone to put MSU back up 14-7 with 6:56 to play in the half. Maxwell completed just 9-of-27 passes for 123 yards on the afternoon, but did not throw an interception.
After both defenses produced three-and-outs, Martinez struck again, racing 71 yards for a touchdown down the right sideline on 2nd-and-8 from the NU 29, tying the score at 14 with 3:11 left in the half.
The two teams went to the locker room tied at half, and the Huskers had already accounted for a game's worth of total offense against the vaunted Spartan defense. Martinez rushed for 156 yards on just eight first-half carries, while completing 8-of-16 passes for 52 yards, accounting for 208 total yards. The Huskers totaled 263 yards on 37 first-half plays.
Bell also had a big half, rushing for 105 yards on 14 carries, while Maxwell completed 6-of-14 passes for 89 yards and a score, as MSU produced 208 total yards against the Blackshirts.
Michigan State regained a measure of control by marching 68 yards in 11 plays on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Blackshirts stiffened to keep MSU out of the end zone, holding on 3rd-and-Goal at the NU 7. Dan Conroy, who had missed a 48-yard field goal early in the first quarter - converted on a 25-yarder to give the Spartans a 17-14 lead with 10:21 left in the third quarter.
The defenses dominated the rest of the quarter, and Dennard provided one of the game's biggest plays when he made a highlight-reel interception on a pass from Martinez intended for Quincy Enunwa deep down the middle of the field. Dennard hauled in the interception at the MSU 32 and quickly spun around before returning the catch 30 yards to the NU 38.
Bell carried six times for 18 yards on the ensuing drive, bulling his way into the end zone from one yard out with 14:20 left in the game to put the Spartans up 24-14. Bell's second touchdown came on his 29th carry of the game and pushed his rushing total to 164 yards.
The Spartans controlled the third quarter, amassing 122 yards of total offense while holding the Huskers to minus-four total yards. But while Michigan State won the third quarter, Nebraska owned the fourth.
On the following possession, Martinez marched Nebraska into scoring position, driving all the way to the MSU 5. But on 2nd-and-Goal Dennard struck again, jumping a Husker route before dodging and weaving his way to the end zone for what appeared to be a game-clinching touchdown and a 31-14 Spartan lead. But near the spot of the interception, Michigan State was flagged for a personal foul, putting the Spartans 1st-and-10 at the MSU 10.
The Blackshirts stepped up and forced a three-and-out. After the MSU punt, Martinez regained his composure and drove the Huskers 58 yards in just six plays, capped by his 35-yard touchdown run to narrow the gap to 24-21 with 7:02 left. Martinez and Abdullah accounted for all 58 yards on the ground for the Huskers.
The Blackshirts forced another three-and-out, and after Tim Marlowe's 19-yard return of a 60-yard Mike Sadler punt, Martinez and the Huskers started with solid field position at the NU 39. The Huskers picked up one quick first down, but a one-yard pickup by Abdullah and back-to-back incompletions, the Huskers were faced with 4th-and-9 at the MSU 44. Martinez hit Enunwa on a short completion, but it was not enough for a first down and Michigan State took over at its own 40 with just 3:12 left in the game.
Like they had done all day, the Spartans turned to Bell and the bruising back rumbled 13 yards on his first two carries to pick up a first down and push the ball into NU territory. The Spartans went to Bell two more times, setting up a 3rd-and-6 at the NU 43. MSU handed to Bell one more time, but he came up with just four yards and no first down. Nebraska spent its final timeout with 1:27 left, but Martinez and the Huskers would get the ball back one more time.
Sadler booted his punt 39 yards into the end zone for a touchdown, but the Huskers needed 80 yards in 1:20 with no timeouts to keep their hopes of a Big Ten title alive.
Martinez hit Enunwa with a 22-yard strike on the sideline to start the drive, but after a rush for no gain and back-to-back incompletions, the Huskers were faced with 4th-and-10 at the NU 42 with 40 seconds left.
In one of the most clutch throws of his career, Martinez connected with senior tight end Kyler Reed for a 38-yard strike to put NU 1st-and-10 at the MSU 20. Two more incompletions left the Huskers 3rd-and-10, and Martinez's pass to Kenny Bell in the right side of the end zone fell incomplete. However, Michigan State was flagged for pass interference, keeping NU's drive alive at the MSU 5. For the game, Michigan was penalized nine times for 100 yards, while Nebraska was flagged nine times for 72 yards.
After an incompletion intended for Reed in the back of the end zone, Martinez hit Turner on the winning pass with six seconds left to secure another come-from-behind victory, while giving the Huskers their first lead of the game.
Coming into the 2012 campaign, a storied Nebraska program that now has more than 850 all-time victories, had produced just four double-digit, fourth-quarter comebacks in school history. The Huskers have now done it twice in back-to-back road games.
The last time the Huskers took to the road, they matched the biggest fourth-quarter rally in school history, clawing their way back from a 28-16 deficit with six minutes to go in a 29-28 win at Northwestern.
Nebraska notched its first conference home win and its first of three momentous comebacks in the Big Ten home opener against Wisconsin on Sept. 29. The Huskers trailed the Badgers 27-10 with less than nine minutes to play in the third quarter, before tying the game at 27 by the end of the third. A Maher fourth-quarter field goal completed the 17-point rally, which tied for the second-largest comeback in school history.
Nebraska returns home for the first of back-to-back games at Memorial Stadium, when the Huskers take on always-tough Penn State on Saturday, Nov. 10. Kickoff between the Huskers and Nittany Lions is set for 2:30 p.m. (CT) with live national television coverage on ABC and ESPN2.