No. 18 Nebraska shows knack for the big comeback
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Nebraska is living a little too close to the edge for coach Bo Pelini's comfort.
Nothing wrong with that, as long as the Cornhuskers keep winning.
The 18th-ranked Huskers have overcome double-digit deficits in the second half in three of their four Big Ten wins - and they still have three conference games to play.
"I wish we could make it easier on us. I'm aging quick," the 44-year-old Pelini said after the latest comeback in Saturday's 28-24 win at Michigan State.
The Huskers are the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to have won three games this season after trailing by 10 or more points in the second half, according to STATS LLC.
They rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter against the Spartans, with Taylor Martinez giving the Huskers their first lead with six seconds left when he hit Jamal Turner with a 5-yard scoring pass.
Two weeks ago, Nebraska trailed by 12 in the middle of the fourth quarter before winning at Northwestern. The Huskers were down 17 at home to Wisconsin in the middle of the third quarter Sept. 29 before making the second-biggest comeback in program history.
"Something's up," linebacker Alonzo Whaley said. "This season is definitely meant to be."
Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) goes into this week's home game against Penn State (6-3, 4-1) tied with Michigan for first place in the Big Ten Legends Division. The Huskers own the tiebreaker over the Wolverines and can assure themselves of playing in the conference championship game if they win out against the Nittany Lions, Minnesota (home) and Iowa (away).
Nebraska's knack for the comeback is a relatively new concept for Big Red fans.
Only twice in the 12 seasons before Pelini took over in 2008 had the Huskers rallied for wins after being down double digits in the second half. They've done it six times under Pelini, starting with the Joe Ganz-led comeback against Clemson in the Gator Bowl after the 2008 season and the Zac Lee-led rally at Missouri in 2009.
Whatever Martinez's legacy ends up being - he's 24-10 as a starter with no bowl wins or championships - the third-year starter's second-half magic in 2012 won't soon be forgotten.
On the day he became Nebraska's career leader in total offense, Martinez bounced back from throwing three interceptions to beat the Spartans.
Michigan State could have put the dagger to the Huskers on Martinez's last pick. But a penalty wiped out Darqueze Dennard's 96-yard return for a touchdown. The Huskers' defense forced a three-and-out, and Martinez went to work.
Martinez, who finished with 205 yards rushing, broke loose for a 35-yard touchdown run with 7:02 left to make it a three-point game.
The winning drive started at the Huskers' 20 with 1:20 left. Martinez kept the series alive when he converted on fourth-and-10 with his 38-yard completion to Kyler Reed to the Spartans' 20.
Pelini said offensive coordinator Tim Beck had asked him through the headset whether he wanted to set up for a field goal that would send the game into overtime or to let Martinez keeping passing after having thrown those three interceptions.
"Obviously I trust Taylor a lot to be able to manage that situation," Pelini said. "Tim Beck asked me, he said `What do you want to do? Do you want to play it safe?' I said, `Let's go win the football game.' "
The Huskers caught a break on a questionable pass-interference call against Dennard, who was defending Kenny Bell along the sideline on third-and-10.
The penalty put Nebraska at the MSU 5. With the clock was running down, Turner scored his first career touchdown when he hauled in Martinez's perfectly placed pass in the corner of the end zone.
"We've been in that situation before a couple of times and we know that we can't be stopped," Martinez said.
Pelini couldn't say where the victory ranked, other than it's "right up there."
"I've been saying all along this is a special group; great leadership and tremendous character," he said. "These kids want it bad. Like I said, we don't always play as smart as we need to play, but one thing you can't question about the guys in that locker room behind me is their heart."
Heading into the final three regular-season games, that 25-point loss at Ohio State a month ago is far back in the Huskers' rear-view mirror.
"We think we're the best in the Big Ten. We're not going to be stopped," Turner said. "We're going to keep going until we accomplish what we want to accomplish, and that's the Big Ten championship. It doesn't matter how much we're down by - 20, 30 points - we're going to keep fighting until we win the game."