EAST LANSING, Mich. — OK at times, not so good at others.
That’s how Nebraska defense coordinator John Papuchis summed up the Blackshirts’ play in Saturday night’s 27-22 loss to No. 10 Michigan State in a cold, wet Spartan Stadium.
On a night senior walk-on linebacker Trevor Roach had a monster career night and Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook completed only 11 passes in 29 attempts, Nebraska couldn’t overcome three big plays that helped the Spartans build a 27-3 lead.
The first came when Cook, one play after Nebraska cornerback Daniel Davie left the game with an injury, went after Davie’s backup, Jonathan Rose.
Cook delivered a 55-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Tony Lippett, who beat Rose badly on a double move. The play staked Michigan State to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Nebraska missed two tackles on running back Jeremy Langford’s 31-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and was fooled on a double-reverse that Lippett turned into a 32-yard touchdown that gave Michigan State what appeared an insurmountable 27-3 lead late in the third quarter.
Those plays loomed even larger when Nebraska, thanks in part to its defense, staged a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback.
“For the most part, our guys carried out the game plan,” Papuchis said. “We got beat on some things we probably just shouldn’t get beat on, the double-reverse, a double move on a one-man route and pressure.
“We needed to tackle a little bit better, and we needed to play better leverage with our corners. We had help for them inside, and we got beat on the leverage side a little bit.”
Nebraska began the game in positive fashion, with defensive end Randy Gregory intercepting a pass Vincent Valentine tipped on the game’s second play. Nebraska forced two other turnovers in the first half, including one on a muffed punt, but couldn’t convert any of the turnovers — all in Michigan State territory — into points.
Cook, while he delivered some impressive strikes, finished just 11-of-29 passing, far below his Big Ten-leading passing percentage of 64.9 percent entering the game.
Nebraska, though, didn’t get enough pressure on Cook, especially on third-and-long plays. The Huskers had no sacks and were credited with only one quarterback hurry.
“When guys were open, he completed balls,” Papuchis said. “He took advantage of his opportunities.”
Roach, meanwhile, had a team-best 18 tackles, shattering his previous career high of seven, set in the 2011 season opener against Tennessee-Chattanooga. Of those, 3 1/2 were for loss, including a key third-and-1 stop in the first quarter that forced Michigan State to punt after reaching the Nebraska 44-yard line.
Roach, who missed all of the 2013 season because of injury, was seeing more time at BUCK linebacker in place of injured David Santos.
Papuchis, not interested in heaping praise on any individuals after the disappointing loss, said only that Roach was OK at times, not so good at others.
The same words he used to describe his defense as a whole.
“I thought our guys competed and fought, but that’s our expectation. That’s what we think we should do in those situations,” Papuchis said. “Our guys kept playing and battling. You never know what’s going to happen. We ended up at the end being about a foot away on that throw in the back of the end zone.”