Michigan St Nebraska Football

Nebraska players celebrate with kicker Barret Pickering (32) after he kicked the winning field goal Saturday against Michigan State in Lincoln. Nebraska won 9-6.

LINCOLN — Nebraska running back Devine Ozigbo put it best: the circumstances leading up to NU's 9-6 win over Michigan State at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on Saturday could have come straight out of central casting.

"That was nice. I was talking to Wyatt (Mazour), it was like a scene out of a movie," Ozigbo said. "I got my last look after the game as a player. I had to take it all in. I saw my brother, hugged him and sprinted into the locker room. It was special. It's hard to explain."


Here's how the winning script was written: Nebraska's prolific offense struggles for four quarters, only to be picked up by a much-maligned defensive unit and a freshman kicker who drills three field goals in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning, 47-yarder as the snow falls.

Michigan State wanted to play ugly.

Nebraska obliged.

One week ago, I bemoaned Nebraska's soft play on defense, giving up nearly 400 yards rushing to Illinois.

One week later, Nebraska defenders played with a hard edge and essentially beat Michigan State at its own game.

"This team has gone through a lot and that's one thing that's toughened us up," Ozigbo said. "This style of game is not something we've had to play. We knew that if we had to play this way that we'd be able to get it done."

Put it away they did.

Though he's not officially a Blackshirt, senior safety Antonio Reed turned the lights out all day long on the Michigan State offense.

The hard-hitting kid from Memphis, Tennessee, arguably earned a black practice jersey this week.

At one key point in the fourth quarter, Reed made eye contact with Michigan State's right tackle as Reed creeped up to the line of scrimmage.

As the lineman looked away for a split second, the ball was snapped and Reed came on a blitz. He blindsided MSU quarterback Rocky Lombardi and forced a fumble recovered by Nebraska's Damion Daniels.

Reed played arguably his best game as a Husker, accounting for seven tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups.

"He is certainly one of the most talented guys we have on defense," Head Coach Scott Frost said of Reed. "But, talent doesn't matter if you're not doing everything the right way, not in the right place. Antonio is that guy now and it showed today. He was certainly the hero of our defense today."

Reed's sack and forced fumble set up a game-tying, 20-yard field goal by freshman kicker Barret Pickering with 8:07 to play.

After the Blackshirts held again on MSU's next drive, Pickering drilled the game-winning 47 yarder with 5:13 left to make it 9-6.

Michigan State's defense was launching late hits on a bitingly cold day, in what felt like an obvious attempt to take out Nebraska's star players.

That's just the Spartan way.

In the big picture, it illustrates one aspect of this Husker program not talked about often.

While the offense has emerged as a force and the defense is improving, overall team toughness took it up a notch with this performance.

NU showed great toughness time and time again, even amidst fumble after fumble, drop pass after drop pass, even after bad officiating— a wind chill in the teens at the old stadium.

In the first half senior receiver Stanley Morgan was tackled three or four yards out of bounds — no flag.

Adrian Martinez took a late shot after releasing a pass — a penalty flag was thrown. More than once you wanted to hold your breath as the freshman was slow to get up.

Time and again MSU defenders threw a little extra business under piles, played to the edge of the whistle and beyond.

From the opening kickoff, Michigan State made it clear it wanted to play down and dirty.

"It's just emotional you know," senior linebacker Luke Gifford said. "It is what it is — just kind of let it roll off your back and keep going. I was happy with the way everyone responded. That's how it's going to be in a Big Ten physical game."

Gifford said he will leave Nebraska with no regrets, as NU now has won four out of five games heading to Iowa City on Friday.

"It's really easy to say things are moving in the right direction but without the actions and the results, it's kind of hard to believe," he said. "So getting a win today and doing it like that. Coming out, playing hard on both sides of the ball in an old-fashioned game in front of our fans. The whole set up, I think it kind of shows where this program is going and I'm super excited for these guys."

Heading into the fourth quarter, NU trailed 3-0 with the Spartans driving, the snow started falling and the Husker defense was being tested yet again.

It just felt like all game long, at any moment, the Husker offense was going to make a play.

Goodness knows the Nebraska defense kept rising to the occasion.

The big play finally came in the fourth quarter when Martinez connected with Morgan on a 35-yard pass play to the MSU 20.

On this miserable of miserable weather days, the Nebraska offense was in a deep freeze.

You kind of got a feeling Nebraska's defense was playing with a chip on its shoulder. After all, the Husker offense has been stealing the show for weeks.

"Every week I have been coaching them, I think there is a little more fight," Frost said.

"Today was certainly the most I've seen. I haven't seen these guys quit. I've seen them keep practicing better and better. I've seen them keep playing harder. I've seen them come together better as a team."

It was the perfect ending, for what would be a perfect movie.


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