Running back Jeremy Langford #33 of the Michigan State Spartans runs past defensive tackle Aaron Curry #96 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
LINCOLN, Neb. - No one has attacked Michigan State's defense or come after its quarterback this season as successfully as Nebraska did Saturday in the battle for the Legends Division.
Unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, no one has ever been as generous with one of Mark Dantonio's MSU teams. And this Dantonio team is closing in on the Legends title and the Big Ten championship game after beating Nebraska for the first time in program history.
It took five Huskers turnovers leading to 24 MSU points, and another gutsy fake kick involving punter Mike Sadler - setting up Connor Cook's fourth-quarter touchdown strike to Keith Mumphery - but the No. 14 Spartans rolled 41-28 in front of 90,872 at Memorial Stadium.
MSU (9-1, 6-0 Big Ten) can now clinch its second division title in three years with a win at Northwestern or Minnesota loss vs. Wisconsin next weekend. The Spartans host Minnesota in the regular-season finale and will be in Indianapolis on Dec. 7 - likely against Ohio State, for a spot in the Rose Bowl - with one win in their final two contests.
Nebraska (7-3, 4-2) is eliminated despite touchdowns of 51, 38 and 32 yards on the defense ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense. The Huskers became the first team to run for 100-plus yards on MSU this season, but lost to the Spartans for the first time in eight meetings.
Sadler, the holder on kicks, took a snap on a 45-yard Michael Geiger field-goal try and muscled up the middle for 3 yards on a fourth-and-1. Three plays later, Cook hit Mumphery on a perfect 27-yard pass to give MSU enough cushion to finish.
Cook threw for 193 yards and that score, and Jeremy Langford ran it 32 times for a career-high 151 yards and three touchdowns.
The Huskers' generosity started early, an option pitch fumbled away by running back Terrell Newby on the third play from scrimmage. Shilique Calhoun gobbled it up at the Nebraska 40.
Cook just missed capitalizing, throwing too long to a wide-open Tony Lippett in the back of the end zone. Geiger opened the scoring with a 45-yard field goal.
Drummond picked off an errant Tommy Armstrong pass on the third play of the next series, at the Nebraska 46. But MSU went three and out.
Finally, the Huskers made a mistake late in the first quarter that led to an MSU touchdown. Kurtis Drummond forced Jordan Westerkamp to fumble a punt return on a hard hit, and MSU got the ball at the Nebraska 8 after a replay review. Three plays later, it was 10-0 after an R.J. Shelton 5-yard run.
But Nebraska's offense had answers for MSU's defense when it wasn't giving the ball up. The Huskers made it 10-7 in five plays, the last a 32-yard pass to Sam Burtch - all alone thanks to a blown MSU coverage.
It was 13-7 Spartans when the fourth turnover of the half seemed to give MSU a major edge. Calhoun stripped Armstrong, Isaiah Lewis recovered at the Huskers 22, and Langford's 6-yard scoring run made it 20-7 with 21 seconds left in the half.
Another MSU bust early in the third quarter made it a game again - a misalignment helped Nebraska's Imani Cross race 51 yards up the middle for a touchdown.
Another Nebraska turnover opened it up again. After a Mike Sadler punt was downed at the 1, Armstrong was bumped by a pulling offensive lineman - fumbling into the hands of Trae Waynes at the 3. Langford made it 27-14 on the next play.
Another big Nebraska play tightened it. Armstrong dropped back on third-and-9 from the MSU 38 and heaved one for Kenny Bell, who came down with it in front of Drummond. It would be 27-21 until Cook's strike to Mumphery, set up by Sadler's fake.
Contact Joe Rexrode: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @joerexrode. Check out his MSU blog at freep.com/heyjoe.