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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Rex Burkhead scored three touchdowns and ran for 130 yards on 35 carries, and No. 13 Nebraska defeated ninth-ranked Michigan State 24-3 Saturday to take control of the Big Ten Legends Division.
Burkhead, who went over 100 yards for the fifth time in six games, scored at the end of 80- and 89-yard drives in the third quarter to put Nebraska up 24-3.
Taylor Martinez completed 6 of 7 passes for 80 yards in the third quarter after going 1 for 6 in the first half.
Michigan State (6-2, 3-1), coming off the incredible finish to its win over Wisconsin last week, managed just 187 yards against Nebraska’s improving defense. Kirk Cousins was 11 of 27 for 86 yards, with an interception that set up the Huskers’ first score.
The win was Nebraska’s second in its last 17 against top-10 opponents. It pulled the Huskers (7-1, 3-1) into a tie with Michigan State for the Legends Division lead, but they own the tiebreaker against the Spartans.
Michigan State could have essentially locked up the division with a victory against its third straight ranked opponent. But Cousins, as he has throughout his career, struggled on the road.
After throwing for 290 yards and three TDs at home against Wisconsin, Cousins missed on 12 of his first 16 passes.
He was intercepted on the Spartans’ first possession, was nearly picked off three other times and often threw into double coverage.
The Huskers led 10-3 at half and put away the game with two time-consuming drives in the third quarter.
Martinez completed only a shovel pass for no yards and was intercepted on a poorly thrown ball in the first half, but offensive coordinator Tim Beck called on him to throw anyway. He went 4 for 4 and completed third-down passes to Tim Marlowe and Brandon Kinnie before Burkhead scored from a yard out.
Officials initially ruled Burkhead lost a fumble at the goal line, but the video review showed that the ball crossed the goal line.
After another defensive stop by Nebraska, Martinez led the Huskers on a 12-play series that lasted 5:24 and essentially wrapped up the game. Burkhead carried on eight of the first nine plays and then, two plays after limping off the field with a cramp in his left leg, caught a 27-yard touchdown pass.
Burkhead led a rushing attack that finished with 190 yards against a defense that had been allowing 88.9 a game.
Cousins, who last week became the winningest quarterback in MSU history, struggled from the start.
Lance Thorrell stepped in front of a pass intended for B.J. Cunningham and returned it 26 yards to set up the Huskers at the Spartans’ 25. Burkhead scored from the 1 seven plays later.
Cousins couldn’t get the Spartans into the end zone after Johnny Adams intercepted a poorly thrown ball by Martinez and ran it back to the Nebraska 28. A defensive holding call put the ball inside the 10, but Cousins’ end-zone pass to Cunningham was too hot to handle and then Nebraska safety Daimion Stafford dropped a bad throw that could have been run back for a touchdown.
The good news for the Spartans is that their schedule becomes much easier the rest of the way. They play Minnesota at home next, go to Iowa, host Indiana and finish at Northwestern.
Nebraska is starting a rugged stretch of games. After playing Northwestern at home next Saturday, the Huskers have back-to-back road games against Penn State and Michigan, and they finish at home against Iowa.
Senior linebacker Lavonte David made a team-leading 13 tackles for Nebraska and now has 229 in two seasons, a school record for two-year players.
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