EAST LANSING, Mich. — A week after being challenged by one of the nation's top quarterbacks, Nebraska's defense faced a big test against the nation's leading rusher.
The Blackshirts answered the challenge.
Nebraska bottled up Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III, holding the Wake Forest transfer to 61 yards on 19 carries in a 23-20 overtime loss Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Walker entered leading the country in rushing at 164 yards per contest. His longest, and most important, run came on the Spartans' first offensive play of overtime when he rumbled up the gut for 23 yards.
Nebraska was very physical throughout the game. It had eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage and had Michigan State in third-and-long on several occasions.
NU dominated Michigan State's offense in the second half. The Spartans went the third and fourth quarters without a first down and only 14 yards of total offense.
NU senior JoJo Domann was asked if the defense could have done more.
"Yeah, get the ball out," he said. "We had a good half, but it wasn't great my any means, and we've all got more to give. This whole team has more to give."
NU also recorded three sacks, and an interception on the game's opening series.
"We're playing at a high level on defense, and that's why it's so mystifying that we punt the ball 40 yards off-target," NU coach Scott Frost said.
"The rest of our team needs to step up," NU quarterback Adrian Martinez said of the defense's performance. "They're the backbone of this team."
More laundry on the field: Nebraska was looking to clean up the penalties after committing eight — including four on its first offensive series — last week at Oklahoma.
NU had more issues in another road environment, especially at offensive line.
Cameron Jurgens, Matt Sichterman, Brant Banks and Bryce Benhart each drew false-start penalties, and Jurgens' and Sichterman's came on back-to-back plays that killed a promising drive.
Frost was seen in the faces of his offensive linemen as they came off the field after the drive.
"We can't have four false starts," Frost said. "Coach (Greg) Austin stands behind those guys every day in practice and yells, 'Move,' and gets the D-line to shift. Everything we know how to do to keep them from doing it, they got to stay calm and do their job and not jump. It probably cost us points in the first half."
Michigan State was unable to capitalize on a 15-yard roughing penalty on Deontre Thomas in the first half.
NU committed seven penalties for 50 yards by halftime.
Heavy on the option: Nebraska has sprinkled the option into game plans for Fordham, Buffalo and Oklahoma.
Nebraska ramped it up against Michigan State, using several players as the pitchman, including Levi Falck, Brody Belt and Samori Toure.
Martinez scored on a counter option play to give the Huskers a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
Injury updates: Nebraska welcomed back a couple of veterans on Saturday night after lengthy absences, but also played without junior wide receiver Oliver Martin for the fourth straight week.
Both sophomore defensive lineman Casey Rogers and junior offensive lineman Broc Bando appeared to be available against MSU.
Bando, who had not dressed the past two weeks for NU due to a non-COVID illness, returned to action first as part of the Huskers' special teams units in the first half.
Rogers missed the first four games of the season with an apparent knee injury.
Martin, meanwhile, has an apparent knee injury and now has missed four games after leading NU with six catches for 103 yards against Illinois.
Frost said Thursday that he had hoped Martin would be available this week, but he’ll have to wait until at least Oct. 2 against Northwestern.
Freshman wide receiver Zavier Betts, who had five first-half catches, was not available in the second half, Frost said.
Martinez left the game for a series after getting sandwiched on a third-down play on the opening drive. Logan Smothers ran the offense on NU's next series before Martinez returned.
"I knew it would be a matter of time before (I was back on the field)," Martinez said.
Belt in the game plan: Frost wasn't afraid to insert Husker walk-on and Millard West graduate Belt into the Huskers' offensive plans.
He carried the ball on an option pitch earlier in the game. His 15-yard catch ignited the Huskers go-ahead touchdown drive.