All Points West: Husker fans teach the meaning of die hard
     2014-10-09      By Frank Marquez   
The visit to East Lansing ended with the Huskers stopped short in their fourth quarter comeback bid. Touchdown Tommy Armstrong was intercepted for the second time in the game at the Michigan State 17-yard line with less than a minute to go. Though, his cannon for an arm couldn’t seal the deal, his anxiousness to get another score—the winning score—got the better of him in yet another high-pressure situation.

Even with the 27-22 loss, Nebraska (5-1 overall, 1-1 in conference) remains the favorite in the Big Ten West Division. Across the Division I landscape, football Saturday was a day of upsets. This should have been a huge hint to Spartans fans that left the stadium early; they probably thought the game was over when Nebraska had only managed to score a field goal through three quarters of play.

Sitting five rows back from the south end zone, I noticed the pockets of empty stands, thinking this would never happen at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, much less at any Nebraska game, especially on the road. There was enough red in the crowd to impress at least one Michigan State season ticket holder sitting next to me. He said that Nebraska always travels well. “Somebody would think you guys lived right down the road,” he said. “You have almost as many fans here as Ohio State does when they come to town.”

The fans who filed out early couldn’t blame the weather. Call it drizzle or light rain, but it didn’t last. Students from both schools went shirtless, either adorned in candy striped coveralls or body paint.

The season ticket holder strangely enough was wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey. With no strong allegiance to the green and white, he merely made remarks about the action as a sort of football aficionado or possibly a coach. He observed: When Nebraska’s defensive backs went for the ball instead of the tackle. How Armstrong was one tough QB for taking some pretty vicious shots, at one point catching his breath on the sideline while backup QB Ryker Fyfe took a few snaps. Why Defensive Tackle Randy Gregory wears No. 4 when typically guys on the line choose jerseys with double-digits in the 90s. How Nebraska’s O Line towered over the Michigan State defense.

One insight that stood out was his explanation for why the fans were leaving the stands early. He said Michigan and Ohio State have hit the skids, and Mark Dantonio has turned things around in East Lansing. Dantonio took over the program as the team’s head coach in 2007. Since then, the fans have come to expect victory at home, and apparently have taken it for granted.

The chatter after the game was about how Nebraska will see the Spartans again in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Championship, and next time MSU won’t be able to hold the great Ameer Abdullah to only 45 yards. Michigan State fans admitted being nervous about having Big Red as a guest. Several of the Spartans faithful echoed this sentiment: “Next time you guys come here, try not to give us a heart attack.”

The Huskers proved one thing to themselves in this game, and that is they can play from behind—embarrassingly behind—but I think deep down Nebraska already knew that. With a cupboard full of talent, they scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and damn near another before it was all said and done. Nebraska put together two drives capped by short TD runs by Abdullah, before De’Mornay Pierson-El ripped off a chunk of real estate on a 63-yard punt return with nearly three and half minutes left in the game. There was enough time to bite off a few more nails. Taking nothing away from Pierson-El’s nimble stepping, the Spartan defense was stunned and appeared to be playing in slow motion. The Red Wings fan spoke up again and said that’s what happened when State played the Oregon Ducks in the first game of the season in a 46-27 waxing at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.

“They ran out of gas,” he said. “They can’t make it four quarters. And it’s a little late for them to try and make up that ground now.”

After No. 21 Nebraska runs the gauntlet in the West Division and with the weekly shuffle of teams at the top of the polls—polls which by the way don’t factor into the playoff committee’s final four picks—the Huskers may just find themselves in the conversation on the remaining national title contenders with only one loss. It’s a committee which by the way includes former Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne.

But lest I get caught up in prognosticator fever, I’ll say it’s still too early to tell, especially in this topsy-turvy season, but look for Florida State and Auburn to go down next.

Next up: After a bye this weekend, Nebraska takes on a resurgent Northwestern at Ryan Field on Oct. 18. The week off should be enough time to bring the Huskers wounded back to life. Also, take into consideration, the Wildcats knocked off the Wisconsin Badgers, 20-14, and will go head to head with Minnesota this Saturday. Both teams have yet to lose in conference play.

My advice to the Huskers: Stay focused and mark Dec. 6 on your calendars. If this loss to State hurts; it should.

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