Foster: Michigan State nearly gives away big win

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State players piled into the postgame media scrum to tell their tales of horror and near misses.

They swore they were happy about Saturday night's Big Ten opening 27-22 victory over Nebraska at Spartan Stadium. Quarterback Connor Cook actually sounded convincing. But here is the dead giveaway that all was not right in Sparty heaven: There were no smiles.

The Spartans (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) celebrated another win. They celebrated being the best team in the Big Ten. But it was hardly a raise-the-roof celebration. They nearly squandered a 27-3 lead in the final minutes. They were rocked by a bad pass interference call, let a game-deciding interception slip through their hands and forgot that every second counts.

"We got too comfortable," Cook said. "Once you get a lead like that you get comfortable. I think that kind of happened with me a bit. Once Tony (Lippett) got that touchdown we felt the game was pretty much in the bag. The lesson for me as a player is to never get too comfortable, keep piling up the points."

Is there any surprise one of the press box guests was Tigers reliever Joba Chamberlain, who played a big hand in the Tigers blowing a comfortable lead in the American League Division Series? The Joba karma spilled over to the Spartans, who tried to give away a game.

Valuable lesson

It is hardly the end of the world that MSU failed to win with style points. However, this team needs to understand what stands before it and how important every play is from this point forward. The Spartans should not be in the business of just piling up wins. They must pile up championships.

The Spartans almost blew a magical weekend.

This team should repeat as Big Ten champion because it is the best team in the conference. MSU is also back in the national championship hunt after Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas A&M, UCLA and Oregon lost. College football gave the Spartans new life, and they were one play from giving it all back.

The Spartans turned conservative on offense, gave up big plays on defense and special teams and were hanging on for dear life when cornerback Trae Waynes ended the Cornhuskers' final chance with a game-sealing interception.

There needs to be a lesson learned for running back Jeremy Langford. He made big plays while rushing for 111 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown. However, he gave Nebraska life when he went out of bounds on a third down play. He could have run another 40 seconds off the clock, but Nebraska got the ball with 1:07 remaining after Spartans kicker Michael Geiger banged a 36-yard field goal attempt off the goal post.

Langford said he thought he could end the game by making a first down. But he came up short and was lectured about the importance of running down the clock to end games. It is a critical mistake from a fifth-year senior.

"It is uncharacteristic of us when we get a lead like this to allow people back in the game," coach Mark Dantonio said.

The Spartans let their past creep into their future. The unsportsmanlike penalties that crippled them during the final years of George Perles and during the Bobby Williams and John L. Smith eras rose again. They did not play smart after playing a brilliant game.

Stellar first half

Do you want the good? The Spartans have now outscored opponents 146-14 in the first half of home games, and they tossed the rough-and-tumble Cornhuskers around for much of the game. Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah is one of the most dangerous men in college football. He came into the game with three 200-yard rushing games and a 7.3 yards per carry average.

His head coach said Nebraska planned on running the ball against the Spartans. Abdullah did score two late touchdowns, but he was held to 45 yards rushing and a 1.9 yard per carry average. Nebraska was held to a season-low 47 yards rushing and its lowest rushing total since running for 31 against Southern California in 2007.

"We are all pretty happy that we are winners," Cook said.

The Spartans hardly looked like winners afterward. It was a win but they must understand that games last for 60 minutes and the next letup could be a costly one.

"This won't happen again," Cook promised.

He'd better be right.