Mike Sadler was excited when Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio called for "Charlie Brown."
That's the Spartans' fake field-goal play. Clinging to a 27-21 lead and facing fourth-and-1 from the Nebraska 27-yard line, the field-goal unit lined up for a 45-yard kick. Sadler, who punts, is the regular holder for kicker Michael Geiger.
"I was excited we called it, because every time we ran it in practice, I ended up scoring a touchdown," Sadler said.
So, just like Lucy in the comic strip, Sadler pulled the ball out before Geiger could kick it and headed up the middle, breaking a tackle to pick up a first down. Three plays later, Keith Mumphery snared a 27-yard touchdown pass from Connor Cook and the Spartans pulled away for a 41-28 victory.
"At some point in time, the head football coach has to take some chances," Dantonio said. "We're going to roll the dice. I already made up my mind on that series that if we got within field-goal range that we were running the fake."
It didn't go exactly as planned, Sadler admitted. Nebraska's block was different than it had shown and Sadler said he should have checked out of the fake and gone for the field goal.
"It was supposed to go outside. As soon as I saw the hole I was supposed to be running through was completely blocked, I thought it wasn't going to be a good thing," Sadler said. "You don't want your 180-pound punter running up the middle trying to juke people.
"Charlie Brown is to the right and Lucy, the same play, is to the left. I think Snoopy would have made the fake look a little better than I did. Luckily it worked out."
It was Nov. 16, 1952, that Charles Schulz' Peanuts character Charlie Brown first had Lucy pull the ball out from in front of him.
Cook said he was confident in Sadler's ability to convert on the fake field goal.
"Sadler is a really, really strong guy. He may not look like it, but he's a lot stronger than you think," he said. "We're comfortable with the ball in his hands. We know he's going to protect it and if he has to lower his shoulder, that's what he'll do."
The Spartans scored 24 points off Nebraska turnovers. In the first half, three fumble recoveries led to a 12-yard drive for a field goal, an 8-yard drive for a touchdown and, just before halftime, a 22-yard drive for another touchdown.
After Nebraska trimmed the deficit to 20-14 in the third quarter, the Spartans pounced on a loose ball and needed one play to punch in a 3-yard touchdown.
"If they're handing it over, we'll take it. We want to be opportunistic," linebacker Max Bullough said. "We're not especially pumped about our performance, especially our defense. They made some plays on us. But we're happy we're winning those kinds of games. I'd rather be sitting here talking about what we can fix rather than the win column."
Dantonio said his offense was a bit slow to get going.
"Look at our offense. Slow to start, but I thought Connor Cook threw the ball effectively in the second half," he said. "Big catches by our wide receivers. We had some plays on special teams.
"They (the Huskers) were able to run the ball a little bit more effectively than we thought, but credit Nebraska on that. (Ameer) Abdullah is an outstanding running back — quick, explosive, he gets a crease and he can get it and go. But when you come up with five turnovers, you did something right, too."
Michigan State allowed Nebraska to rush for 182 yards. The Spartans' previous high this season was 92 yards to Indiana. But they countered that with 11 third-down conversions and the one fourth-down conversion.
"We know if we don't make it on third down, we're probably going to punt and we don't want to do that," receiver Tony Lippett said. Three of his four catches came on third down and were enough to convert. "We do our best to put ourselves in position on that third-down play."