EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Katin Houser and Sam Leavitt each threw touchdown passes and Noah Kim kicked two field goals to help Michigan State snap a six-game losing streak with a 20-17 victory over Nebraska on Saturday afternoon.
It is the Spartans' first win under interim coach Harlon Barnett, who took over when Mel Tucker was fired Sept. 27. Michigan State (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) had dropped seven straight conference games since beating Rutgers Nov. 12, 2023.
“Finally. Finally got us a victory,” said a smiling Barnett. “Really happy for our guys. All we talked about was finish, finish, finish and that’s what they did. We finally finished one and got a victory.”
The victory was also the first for Houser who was making his fourth start of the year. He finished 13 of 20 passing for 165 yards.
“It’s surreal for sure,” said Houser who threw and 11-yard scoring pass to Christian Fitzpatrick in the second quarter. “I know we had some troubles; couldn’t get a win. I feel like today the whole team played together and were able to finish out in the fourth quarter. I’m so proud of our guys, so proud of our team. We were able to get that win. So it feels good.”
Neither team took control in the first half. Kim's 51-yard field goal with 5:11 left in third quarter broke a 10-10 tie and Leavitt pushed the lead to 20-10 with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Montorie Foster Jr. with 12:13 remaining in the game.
Nebraska (5-4, 3-3) cut the deficit to 20-17 on Emmett Johnson's four-yard touchdown run with 3:35 left. The Huskers regained possession with under a minute remaining but were unable to convert a hail Mary pass at the end of the game by Heinrich Haarberg, who finished 12 of 28 passing for 129 yards and two interceptions.
“Offensively, the second half we couldn’t get anything going,” said Nebraska coach Matt Rhule. “I’m so proud of the guys' effort that they fought at the end.
“But overall, just the performance was not our best.”
Khary Crump started at cornerback for Michigan State in his first game back after a suspension for the stadium tunnel fight at Michigan last year. The Big Ten suspended Crump for eight games after he swung his helmet at a Michigan player in the tunnel. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.
Nebraska: The Huskers struggled in pass defense against a Michigan State receiving corps that was missing starters Tre Mosley and Maliq Carr. They allowed 232 yards through the air, including six passes of more than 15 yards. Nebraska will need to show improvement next week against Maryland's explosive passing offense.
“Again, we can’t give up big plays," Rhule said. “It doesn't matter how good you are about how good you are on defense. If you don’t take the ball away and you give up big plays, it’s not a recipe for winning.”
Michigan State: The Spartans played their best defense of the year, registering 12 tackles for a loss and forcing three turnovers. The Huskers crossed midfield just once in the second half and Haarberg was sacked seven times.
“Nebraska played so hard, man,” said Spartan defensive lineman Maverick Hansen. “They came out ready to go. They were playing for a bowl game.
“I knew that they were going to come out here like that and give everything they had. But as far as how we played, we just had to keep stacking and keep coming after him and and just never quit.”
Nebraska: Hosts Maryland on Nov. 11.
Michigan State: At No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 11.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll