LINCOLN, Neb. -- Terrell Newby fumbled on Nebraska's third play from scrimmage, Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw an interception on its sixth and before the first quarter was even over Jordan Westerkamp had muffed a punt.
As dreadful as the start was for the Cornhuskers against No. 14 Michigan State, they still were in the game in the fourth quarter before they lost 41-28 Saturday.
In all, the Huskers committed five turnovers while seeing their hopes for a return to the Big Ten championship game end.
"We just couldn't get over the hump," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "If we had found a way to take the lead, it might have been a different football game. We just couldn't get there. We lost the game because we made too many mistakes."
The Spartans converted the turnovers into 24 points and took a big step toward winning the Big Ten Legends Division.
Jeremy Langford ran 32 times for 151 yards and scored two touchdowns, and Keith Mumphrey caught a 27-yard touchdown from Connor Cook in the fourth quarter after the Huskers pulled within six points.
The Spartans (9-1, 6-0) beat the Huskers (7-3, 4-2) for the first time in eight all-time meetings.
They would clinch the division with a win at Northwestern next week or a loss by Minnesota in either of its last two games. Michigan State plays Minnesota to end the regular season.
Big Ten leading rusher Ameer Abdullah ran 22 times for 123 yards for Nebraska. He went over 100 yards for the seventh straight game and eighth time this season and is the first player to do it against the Spartans.
Last year, Nebraska made up 10 points in the last eight minutes and won in East Lansing, Mich., on a touchdown with 6 seconds left. Even though they kept turning over the ball Saturday, the Huskers were still in the game well into the fourth quarter.
But when Mumphrey scored on a third-and-13 pass with 7:56 left, the Spartans could exhale while moving closer to their second appearance in the Big Ten championship game in three years.
"It's down," cornerback Ciante Evans said, describing the Huskers' locker room. "It's a tough loss. We wanted it so bad. But at the same time you have to let it go. Everything happens for a reason. We've got to come back tomorrow and get ready for Penn State."
Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong Jr. was just 9 of 21 for 143 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. Kenny Bell caught four passes for 82 yards.
Michigan State's five takeaways were the most in coach Mark Dantonio's seven seasons with the Spartans.
Nebraska moved the ball better than anyone so far against the Spartans' nation-leading defense, finishing with 392 yards.
But the Huskers couldn't get out of their own way, and the Spartans were able to generate enough offense to take advantage and win their sixth straight game after a four-point loss at Notre Dame.
Nebraska came into the game looking to build on some of the momentum it had generated the past two games despite losing three offensive linemen to injury and four-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez to a foot problem.
Speculation about Pelini's future peaked after a loss at Minnesota. But then the Huskers beat Northwestern on a Hail Mary and ended Michigan's 19-game home winning streak last week to give them an opportunity to take control of the Legends Division with a win over Michigan State.
The Huskers ended up coughing up the ball four times in the first half, and Michigan State turned the turnovers into 17 points while going out to a 20-7 halftime lead.
The killer for Nebraska came with a minute left in the half. The Huskers were trying to run out the clock when Armstrong took off up the middle on third-and-11 from his 18. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun popped the ball loose and safety Isaiah Lewis recovered at the Nebraska 22. Three plays later Langford scored from the 6.
The Huskers, down 20-7 at halftime, made it a six-point game early in the third quarter when Imani Cross went 51 yards untouched.
But another turnover stopped their momentum. After the Spartans' Kurtis Drummond kept Mike Sadler's punt from going into the end zone for a touchback, Nebraska started at its own 1. Armstrong fumbled as he pulled out from under center and Trae Waynes recovered at the 3. Langford scored on the next play to put the Spartans up 27-14.
The Huskers weren't through, going 79 yards for the longest touchdown march of the season against the Spartans. Armstrong threw a 38-yard ball that a well-covered Kenny Bell went up to grab over Kurtis Drummond.
Nebraska's defense held, and the Huskers went into the fourth quarter down 27-21 and with the ball.