EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Nebraska defense seemingly never left the field in the third quarter.
The Huskers too often couldn't make crucial stops. There were missed tackles. There was poor pass coverage. A couple of penalties. And Michigan State's offense practically had exclusive ownership of Spartan Stadium's grass field.
That changed in the fourth quarter, when it mattered most.
"When we had to bow up, we certainly did," Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said in the wake of the No. 21 Huskers' 28-24 triumph Saturday.
The Blackshirts produced three crucial stops on third down in the final 10 minutes. That allowed the Husker offense to produce the 14 points necessary for a comeback.
"Michigan State is a good team, and they got a couple good drives going on us," said Nebraska senior defensive lineman Cameron Meredith. "But I think when it mattered, we stepped up in a big way like we had the last couple (games). We just realized we had to get the ball back to our offense, and we came through."
The Husker offense had the ball for only eight plays in the third quarter, while Michigan State reeled off 26.
The Huskers' first crucial stop in the fourth quarter occurred when safety P.J. Smith stopped Spartan quarterback Andrew Maxwell for a 2-yard gain on third-and-7. NU followed with a six-play, 58-yard touchdown drive.
On third-and-10 from its 20-yard line, Michigan State failed to convert when Justin Blatchford provided blanket coverage on tight end Dion Sims.
Then, on third-and-6 from the Nebraska 43, Meredith and safety Daimion Stafford stopped Le'Veon Bell for a 4-yard gain, and the Huskers responded with their game-winning drive.
"I think no matter what happens, we just keep on playing," Meredith said. "It shows a lot about our character as a team and as a defense.
"We know the offense can score pretty fast with its two-minute (drill)."
Was Meredith worried the defense's tank might be empty in the fourth quarter after staying on the field so mcuh in the third?
"Not really," he said. "We could've stopped them (in the third). We kept beating ourselves — you know, penalties here, penalties there. Then, of course, there were some bad technique errors. But we didn't worry about what was going against us. We just kept on course."
Michigan State finished with 361 yards of total offense — its average entering the game. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Bell, a junior, rushed 36 times for 188 yards and two touchdowns, and Maxwell finished 9-for-27 passing for 123 yards and a TD.
"Really, we didn't have that great of a day," said middle linebacker Will Compton. "We need to fit up the run better. Le'Veon is a great player. You have to be sound because he's sound."
Nebraska was sound enough, particularly when it mattered most.