Had the flag not flown, Nebraska would have been lining up for a 37-yard field goal with 17 seconds left and trying to force overtime with Michigan State.
Instead, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard was called for pass interference after jostling with NU receiver Kenny Bell down the right sideline and into the end zone on a third-and-10 pass from the Spartans’ 20.
So what was Bell’s take on the call?
“It’s tough to say,” Bell said. “I mean, I thought it was good, solid defense, but it’s hard to say. I was just playing. I didn’t see the replay or what happened.
“I know that he leaned on me quite a bit. It was the same thing that happened last week against Michigan. He restricted my hand from going up and catching the ball, so I think that’s what the referee saw.”
Nebraska scored two plays later on the 5-yard pass from Taylor Martinez to Jamal Turner for the 28-24 victory.
‘Heck of a play’
Justin Blatchford was flagged for one of the three pass-interference penalties on the Nebraska defense. It came as Blatchford defended Michigan State tight end Dion Sims midway through the third quarter.
But Blatchford got even later — and when it really counted.
Andrew Maxwell had the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Sims alone against the 6-1, 200-pound Blatchford on third-and-10 from the Michigan State 20 in the fourth quarter. But Blatchford was able to break up the pass — and deny what would have been a key Spartan first down — in what NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis called a “heck of a play” in front of the NU bench.
“He probably at third-and-9 could have played off, but he got up in the guy’s face and pressed him,” Papuchis said. “He was in the exact same situation a couple series prior to that and got a pass-interference penalty. I thought he played it well. I was glad when I saw the ball hit the ground.”
Pelini on PIs
On why his team and Michigan State got flagged for several pass interference penalties, including a Spartan flag that set up NU’s game-winning touchdown, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said it could be a problem of exposure.
“Michigan State plays a lot like we do at the corner position — with a lot of press,” Pelini said. “I don’t know if they’ve seen a lot of that in this conference for a long period of time. It’s a little bit different. We play probably a little bit different than they’re used to seeing. I don’t know if they’re used to calling it.
“It’ll be interesting to look at the tape to get clarification on both sides.”
Spartans fans and players vehemently disagreed with the pass interference call on Darqueze Dennard in the game’s final minute. Even Fox Sports NFL rules analyst Mike Pereira wrote on Twitter that the flag was a “bad call.”
Nebraska picked up three pass interference penalties. Pelini agreed with the first of them on Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who “hooked a guy” with his arm, Pelini said. But Pelini said he wasn’t sure of flags thrown on Ciante Evans and Justin Blatchford.
Husker secondary coach Terry Joseph said offenses throw a lot of “back-shoulder balls” that put the defensive back in “an awkward situation.”
“To define how he should defend in every different situation, it’s almost impossible,” Joseph said.
Joseph said he wants his cornerbacks to play through the flags and not change their aggressive style.
“If you have the kid out there thinking about it that much, he won’t even get himself in position to make a play.”
Taylor on top
With a 33-yard pass to Kenny Bell in the first half, quarterback Taylor Martinez passed former Husker and Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch to become NU’s all-time leader in total offense. Martinez is at 8,166 yards, in good position to go over 10,000 total yards sometime next year.
“I think it’s awesome because so many great people came through Nebraska,” Martinez said. “It’s just an honor to be able to pass them up. I couldn’t have done it without my coaches, my teammates, and my family. My dad (Casey) has a huge part in this. I’m honored.”
Keeping QBs in check
Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed just 9 of 27 passes for 123 yards, and with just three connections after halftime.
In the process, Michigan State became the seventh Husker opponent in nine games to complete 50 percent or fewer of its pass attempts (including four of five Big Ten teams). Nebraska entered the game leading the nation in opponent pass percentage at 47.5 — and lowered that to 46.0.
Abdullah holding up
Sophomore Ameer Abdullah could get used to this feature back gig.
He carried the ball 22 times for 110 yards in Nebraska’s 28-24 comeback win Saturday, playing almost every snap for the Huskers with star Rex Burkhead still out with a knee injury.
Abdullah said he felt healthy before the game, dealing with “nothing more than just ordinary injuries that you get.”
Abdullah gained 42 yards on his first three carries, but was swallowed up for much of the game from that point on. But that was no fault of his own, according to running backs coach Ron Brown.
Those yards were “tough,” Brown said, but Abdullah remained reliable and consistent.
Plus, he opened up some room for Taylor Martinez, who finished with 205 rushing yards.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Brown said of Abdullah. “Taylor of course had the big runs, but it’s those little runs in between that keep the chains moving, and were very important to some of those drives in the second half.” — Rich Kaipust, Jon Nyatawa and Sam McKewon