EAST LANSING, Mich. -- They make you crazy.
They make you angry.
And, finally, somehow, Nebraska made you feel crazy with joy. A tempered sort of joy, but joy all the same.
Nebraska football players ran into the locker room happily pointing toward a delirious cluster of Husker fans in the stands celebrating a wild 28-24 comeback triumph against Michigan State on a chilly Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
"We have a different sort of spirit on this team," said Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
It's easy to spin Nebraska's win positively. The Husker defense, pounded all day by 240-pound Le'Veon Bell (36 carries for 188 yards and two touchdowns), and haunted by its own mistakes, made three critical stops in the fourth quarter.
Taylor Martinez, after throwing three interceptions, once again displayed remarkable calm and poise in finishing off an improbable comeback.
I thought Nebraska was dead in the water when Michigan State took a 24-14 lead 40 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Thought the same thing Sept. 29 when Wisconsin went up 27-10 early in the third quarter.
Thought the same thing Oct. 20 when Northwestern led 28-16 with 8:31 left.
So why should anybody be surprised that 21st-ranked Nebraska, at 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten, still controls its destiny in the Legends Division race with three games to play?
Why should we be surprised Martinez gunned a 5-yard touchdown pass to spunky wideout Jamal Turner (his first career TD) with six seconds left?
"I was just worried we were going to run out of time," said 44-year-old Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.
He said he feels like he's aged 20 years in the past few weeks.
Yeah, this Nebraska team will make you crazy.
Crazy angry at times.
To be sure, Pelini's detractors were having a heyday throughout much of the afternoon. Same old, same old. Head-scratcher penalties, including a few false starts and interference calls (of course). Martinez's turnovers. A dropped pass that probably cost Nebraska a touchdown, followed immediately by a missed field goal from 30 yards.
The list goes on. Can't get to it all.
The Nebraska defense couldn't get off the field in the third quarter; the Husker offense ran only eight plays in the period. Meanwhile, Spartan receivers too often found wide-open spaces, and the bruising Bell found a few gaping holes.
Martinez also was a concern. He didn't exactly help the defense with those picks. He finished 16-for-36 passing for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
"Sometimes he's a headache," said Nebraska defensive end Eric Martin. "Other times, like this, he comes through for us."
Sounds like Pelini absolved Martinez of his sins. According to receiver Tim Marlowe, the first thing Pelini said to his team after the game was, "How about that No. 3?"
Ah, but the joy was tempered. You heard it from coaches and players. They know how dangerously they're living. They know, at least they should know, that the pass-interference call on Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard on Nebraska's game-winning drive was a gift from the football gods. Horrible call.
Nebraska is a sloppy team much of the time, plain and simple. The Huskers make mental errors unbefitting a championship team. They commit gaffes that frustrate Big Red fans who expect more in Year Five of Pelini's tenure. The fans should expect more.
Is Nebraska an undisciplined team? Yes, at times, no doubt. It is perplexing, because the players achieve well in the classroom and stay out of off-the-field trouble more than most teams.
For the sake of balance, Nebraska is a team with plenty of fight, the second half at Ohio State notwithstanding. And, yes, NU possesses a certain spirit. Folks like to say a team reflects its head coach. So give Bo credit for those traits.
Give Nebraska credit for remaining in the thick of the Big Ten title chase even though senior running back Rex Burkhead -- the team's "heart and soul," according to Beck -- has missed four full games and large chunks of three others because of a knee injury.
Give Nebraska credit for finally subduing rugged Michigan State (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten), which fully understands the thin line that separates a season of promise from a season of doom. The Spartans have lost games by 1, 2, 3 and 4 points.
Give Nebraska credit for producing 313 rushing yards against a leather-tough defense that entered the game allowing only 91.2 per game. Martinez sprinted his way to 205 yards on 17 carries.
Give Husker safety P.J. Smith credit for absorbing Bell's vicious (and clean) blow on a third-quarter collision that illustrated the physical nature of the Big Ten.
The champion will have earned the title.
"They're all fistfights," Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said of these exciting Saturday brawls.
These Huskers make you crazy. They make you angry. They make you shout for joy.
Perhaps Nebraska fans are right to expect more from Pelini's program.
On the other hand, how much more spirit and fight can one expect?
this is my point; what is the preventing them from this?
bama plays very disciplined; so did our teams w/TO and even Solich.
I think TM should get a lot of credit; he is fickle, but had come a long way
The turnovers are still a question mark
I hope they climb higher; but is still doesn't change the penalties, turnovers and overall poor defensive play for the last two years.
K-state is great example of a team that dosen't turn the ball over, or play sloppy and wins consistently.
Give the zebras credit for throwing a flag after MSU DB Johnny Adams planted Kenny Bell with a legal block that won the game for Nebraska.
Talk about a gift from the Gods? That was it!!
How did you feel when it was 17 points with 10:30 to go...oh wait, the officials took 7 points off the scoreboard.
This was not a miraculous comeback, this win was a gift.
that wasn't the only bad call Tom. remember the 2 MSU scoring drives kept alive by the zebras with bad PI calls and a late hit out of bounds on Stafford when he was pushed from behind and tryed to pull up?
the officiating was terrible but the best team ended up winning anyway and I don't hear anyone arguing against that point
No, we're going to selectivly ignore those Boom. Kind of like politics.