The Nebraska Cornhuskers' Rose Bowl dreams are still alive and well after a 28-24 comeback victory over the Michigan State Spartans, the Huskers' third double-digit comeback of the season. Time and time again, Nebraska's season has looked on the ropes, and time and time again, Taylor Martinez has rallied his troops for a big-time win.
It's just that this time, Martinez had help—and we're not talking about his fellow Huskers.
In a game filled with borderline calls against both teams, Nebraska laughed last when, trailing 24-21 on 3rd-and-10 at Michigan State's 20-yard line and under a minute to go, Taylor Martinez lofted a fade down the sideline to Kenny Bell.
MSU cornerback Darqueze Dennard provided excellent coverage, getting himself in position to play the ball and turning his head around early. The minimal contact there looked like Bell grabbing the outstretched arm of Dennard.
Dennard batted the ball away, forcing Nebraska to kick a field goal to send the game into overtime. And then the flag came flying in.
Pass interference, Michigan State: 1st-and-goal, Nebraska, at the 5-yard line.
From there it was up to Nebraska to get into the end zone, and that's exactly what happened when Taylor Martinez found Jamal Turner for an easy touchdown pass on second down with six seconds left. Ballgame.
That's a remarkable turnaround from where Nebraska would have been without the flag. While Michigan State was hardly a lock to win that game without the flag flying, there's a huge difference for a team down by three points between kicking a field goal to force a tie and 1st-and-goal at the 5 with enough time to take three or four shots at the end zone.
It was a bad call, plain and simple. It wasn't dicey. It wasn't 50-50. Dennard played great defense on what should have been Nebraska's last offensive snap of regulation, and the referee interpreted it as worthy of a crippling flag.
Put it this way: Does Le'Veon Bell risk at minimum a trip to Mark Dantonio's doghouse via this tweet if it's just a 50-50 call? Here's a screencap of his miniature rant:
For Michigan State, it's a tough, tough loss to swallow. But it's just one loss. For Nebraska, however, it's so much more—it's the balance of the division. Nebraska wasn't a sure loss without that pass interference call, but with a field goal to set up an overtime session, a win was less than a 50-50 proposition.
So although they wouldn't want to ever admit a Michigan State win would help them, count Michigan fans among those who are livid about the referees inserting themselves into the Nebraska-Michigan State game in such a prominent fashion.
Nebraska has the tiebreaker over Michigan still. Both teams also have games against slumping Iowa in their last three contests, so let's say those cancel out. Michigan's other two games: 7-2 Northwestern and at 9-0 Ohio State. Nebraska? Home games with 6-3 Penn State and 5-4 Minnesota.
In other words, Michigan's got to rue the prime opportunity it had to regain control of the Legends Division this week; it probably won't get another. All because of one ridiculous call in a game the Wolverines weren't even playing in.