Michigan St. eyes Northwestern, not B10 title game

Michigan State isn’t ready to celebrate quite yet.

The 13th-ranked Spartans locked up at least a tie for the Big
Ten Legends Division title with their 41-28 win at Nebraska on
Saturday. They need one more win, or one Minnesota loss, to clinch
the division outright.

Linebacker Max Bullough wants to leave nothing to chance, so
it’s full steam ahead to Northwestern.

”We’ll worry about all the other implications when they come,”
Bullough said. ”We can’t play our bowl game tomorrow. We can’t
play our bowl game next week. We can just play the next game on the
schedule.”

To be denied a second appearance in the conference championship
game in three years, the Spartans (9-1, 6-0) would have to lose
their last two games – at Northwestern (4-6, 0-6) and at home
against Minnesota (8-2, 4-2) – plus the Gophers would have to beat
Wisconsin at home this week.

The win over the Cornhuskers was a breakthrough. Before
Saturday, Michigan State had beaten each of its Big Ten opponents
at least once since 2011 except Nebraska.

Coach Mark Dantonio noted that the Spartans will be in the Big
Ten race on the last day of the regular season for the fourth times
since 2008.

”Those are big positive steps for a program from when we came
here,” the seventh-year Spartans coach said. ”It shows we have a
solid foundation, but we need to continue to coach, and play and
play up and continue to climb the ladder. You want to be where we
are at, at the end of the season. I think it was a statement for a
lot of people, for recruits and for everybody else.”

The Spartans never trailed against the Huskers, and they turned
four of Nebraska’s five turnovers into points. But they did have to
respond to pressure after Nebraska scored late in the third quarter
to pull within 27-21.

Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook took another step in his
development, leading Michigan State on a 10-play, 75-yard drive
that made it a 13-point game in the middle of the fourth.

”He delivered,” Dantonio said. ”He had some big throws in the
third and fourth quarters that really sort of put us over the
top.”

Cook hit Tony Lippett for a 34-yard gain on a third-and-5. After
the Spartans picked up a first down on a fake field goal, a 12-yard
pass to Bennie Fowler on third-and-8 was called back because of an
ineligible receiver downfield. But on the next play Cook threw a
perfect ball to Keith Mumphrey on a post pattern for a 27-yard
touchdown.

”I knew we needed a touchdown to kind of seal the deal, get us
a bigger cushion as a team,” Cook said. ”I’m calm and cool under
pressure. I feel like I’ve been like that. I believe in
myself.”

The Spartans scored touchdowns on three of their last four full
series and finished with 361 yards. That total was 18 yards under
their season average, but it was enough on a day Nebraska couldn’t
hang onto the ball.

Michigan State improved to 3-1 on the road, with the only
blemish a four-point loss at Notre Dame.

”We’ve been good on the road. We’ve come together,” Dantonio
said. ”That’s a happy locker room, and the guys feel fulfilled a
little bit. We’re moving in the right direction.”