LINCOLN, Neb. — No. 14 Michigan State all but locked up a spot in the Big Ten title game, and it didn't even need its standout defense at its best.
Nebraska turned the ball over five times Saturday, helping the Spartans win 41-28 and take a two-game lead in the Legends Division with two games left.
"Green Gatorade never tasted so good," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said after taking a big swig. "You've got an opportunity to come up with five turnovers. That's tough to lose a football game when that happens."
Jeremy Langford ran 32 times for 151 yards and scored two touchdowns for the Spartans, who beat the Huskers for the first time in eight all-time meetings. They can clinch the division — and a likely matchup with No. 3 Ohio State — with a win at Northwestern next week or a loss by Minnesota in either of its last two games. Michigan State plays Minnesota to end the regular season.
"It was a really big statement against a team like Nebraska," said the Spartans' Connor Cook, whose 27-yard pass to Keith Mumphrey made it a 34-21 game midway through the fourth. "They have a great defense top to bottom."
Michigan State converted Nebraska's five turnovers into 24 points on an afternoon its defense proved fallible.
Big Ten leading rusher Ameer Abdullah ran for 123 yards for Nebraska. He went over 100 for the seventh straight game and was the first to do it against the Spartans. The Spartans gave up 182 rushing yards and 392 total, both season highs. They entered allowing 43 rushing yards per game and 210 total.
"They were able to run the ball a little bit more than what we thought," Dantonio said. "Credit Nebraska on that. Abdullah is a great running back."
Last year, Nebraska made up 10 points in the last eight minutes and won in East Lansing on a touchdown with six seconds left. Even though it kept turning the over ball Saturday, it was still in the game in the fourth.
But when Mumphrey scored on a third-and-13 pass with 7:56 left — after holder Mike Sadler picked up a fourth and 1 on a fake field goal — the Spartans could exhale while moving closer to their second appearance in the Big Ten championship game in three years.
"We didn't lose that game because of a lack of effort or a lack of want-to," Huskers coach Bo Pelini said. "We couldn't overcome ourselves, and obviously everybody is disappointed. It's hard to be minus-5 in the turnover category and win a football game over a quality team. We almost found a way, but that's a tall order."