LINCOLN — Nebraska linebacker Michael Rose said the fact that Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio fooled the Huskers with a fake field goal hurt worse because they knew to be ready for one.
And this one hurt.
The Spartans led 27-21 and were lining up for a 45-yard kick on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter. MSU holder Mike Sadler pulled back the snap as kicker Michael Geiger took a fake swipe at it, and Sadler ran straight ahead for 3 yards before Aaron Curry and Randy Gregory were credited with the tackle.
Michigan State scored three plays later for a 34-21 lead with 7:56 remaining.
“We had been talking about that all week,” Rose said. “We knew what kind of coach that Coach Dantonio was and his history. I don't know. We just didn't make a play as a unit.
“That's on us as players. We've just got to go out there and make that play.”
NU defensive tackle Vincent Valentine blamed himself for rushing upfield and “trying to get after it and get the block.”
“They kind of ran it through my gap, so I kind of have to take responsibility for that,” Valentine said. “I should have been in my gap, but you can't really do anything about it now.”
Ross Els, the Huskers' special teams coach, said Michigan State showed a different twist by folding one of its wings back inside as a lead blocker and running the holder with it.
“But you're ready for fake field goals from Michigan State,” Els said. “They executed it well and got the first down.”
Close call on catch
Nebraska's bigger special teams mistake came in the first quarter when Jordan Westerkamp caught an MSU punt just inside the 10-yard line, then fumbled as he was tripped up by Kurtis Drummond.
Taybor Pepper recovered on the 8 for the Spartans, and they scored two plays later.
Westerkamp also muffed a punt last weekend at Michigan. Els was noncommittal when asked if he expected any changes in the return game against Penn State.
“We've gotta look at the film, see what we did right and what we did wrong,” he said. “We put a ball on the ground after it was secured — tried to gain a little bit more rather than keeping it tucked. And that's why it came out.”
Should Westerkamp have tried to catch it there? Els said it was a close call. NU usually uses the 10-yard line as the cutoff point.
“He made a nice catch,” Els said. “He really did. It's what happened after that.”
One of the biggest surprises of the day was seeing offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles dressed and warming up with the offense prior to kickoff.
Sirles had to leave the Nov. 9 Michigan game in the first half with an injured left knee. Nebraska offensive line coach John Garrison said Sirles had not practiced all week, and the coaches were ready to start sophomore Zach Sterup.
The idea of having Sirles play, let alone start, first surfaced Friday.
“He came to me,” Garrison said, “and said, 'Coach, it feels pretty good.'”
Garrison said he had a long talk with Sirles and the trainers because he didn't want to risk further injury.
“It wasn't one of those heroic moments. I just wanted to make sure that he takes care of himself,” Garrison said. “I probably asked him too many times, probably five or six times, and he finally was getting annoyed with me. He said, 'Coach, I'm fine.'”
Garrison said the final convincing came during Saturday's warm-ups.
“He ran out on the field, he was running 100 miles an hour and probably ran the fastest 40-yard dash just to show me when he took the field that he was ready to play,” Garrison said. “He came in and gave us everything he could give it until he felt it again.”
Convinced of interception
Senior cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was still convinced after the loss to Michigan State that he managed to corral a third-quarter interception.
With Nebraska down 27-21 and about 20 seconds left in the third quarter, Jean-Baptiste dove in front of receiver Tony Lippett, trying to intercept a second-down pass. It appeared — for a moment — that the Huskers' offense would be getting the football inside the MSU 30-yard line.
Jean-Baptiste was initially credited with a pick, but video review revealed that the football hit the turf.
“I think I had it,” he said. “The refs had a different idea on it.”
Jean-Baptiste also expressed disappointment when he addressed Michigan State's game-sealing drive, which ended with a score and extended the lead to 34-21 midway through the fourth quarter. Two third-down passes, one of which went for a touchdown, were completed to Jean-Baptiste's man on that possession.
“We knew what they were doing,” he said, “and we just didn't execute.”
— Rich Kaipust, Steve Beideck, Jon Nyatawa and Nick Rubek