50 defining moments from the 2021 Michigan State football season: No. 11

Michigan State's Chester Kimbrough, right, returns an interception against Nebraska during overtime on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.210925 Msu Nebraska 250a
Michigan State's Chester Kimbrough, right, returns an interception against Nebraska during overtime on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.210925 Msu Nebraska 250a /

Only 11 days until Michigan State football is back and under the lights. Last year, MSU went to OT against Nebraska, with Chester Kimbrough as the hero.

Welcome back to the 40th article in my series. As you can see with this as moment No. 11, this is the last article until we are at the top 10 defining moments of the 2021 Michigan State football series.

Personally, this is my 50th article as a contributor to Spartan Avenue on FanSided. As for this article and moment, Chester Kimbrough, one of the lightning rods of criticism for the 2021 Michigan State pass defense, made his best play of the season.

For those of you who missed yesterday’s article, please click here. If you would like to look at previous articles of this series, feel free to scroll through my writing profile.

No. 11: Chester Kimbrough’s interception of Adrian Martinez

Why No. 11?

After a hot start to the 2021 Michigan State football season, many people circled Nebraska as a trap game. The Cornhuskers were 2-2 entering the game, with a bad loss to Illinois as well as a loss to Oklahoma that was rather impressive. Meanwhile, the Spartans were an undefeated 3-0 with the momentum of a 21-point road win in Miami the previous week.

No one could have guessed how much the Spartans would struggle in the game, however. The Spartans were held without a first down the entire second half. Without some Jay Johnson trickery and a Jayden Reed return that is coming in a later article, the Spartans would have not had a touchdown this game.

Despite their horrendous 3-9 record, the 2021 Nebraska Cornhuskers were a strong team. Despite losing three-quarters of their games, the Huskers had a positive point differential at the end of the season. They only had one game all season that was decided by more than one possession, that being their nine-point loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes, and we all know how the Buckeyes did against us.

After an awful second half bailed out by some Reed heroics, the game got sent to overtime. The Spartans won the coin toss and elected to play defense first, while the Huskers picked to play offense away from the student section. After two plays, Nebraska faced a third-and-three. With a sixth, I mean, fourth-year starting quarterback, Nebraska put the game on their star’s shoulders.

Nebraska called slant routes on this play, and Adrian Martinez faced rather instant pressure off the right side of the line. Additionally, he looked down his receiver the entire way, allowing Kimbrough to easily read Martinez. As a result, Kimbrough was able to jump the route, wrestle the ball away from the receiver, and looked to take it back to the student section. Kimbrough was set up perfectly for a pick-six until Martinez elected to take advantage of the lack of enforcement on penalties from an overtime turnover. The quarterback dove and took out the legs of both lead blockers, forcing Kimbrough to cut back inside and get dragged down by a pursuing guard.

The credit for this play belongs to Kimbrough and Jacub Panasiuk. The latter’s instantaneous pressure forced Martinez to get the ball out quick and stare down a receiver. Kimbrough, meanwhile, just read the quarterback’s eyes and followed his blockers. Until the cheap (but smart) shot by Martinez, Kimbrough did everything right to get a pick-six.

Kimbrough ended up being on the receiving end of a lot of criticism from Spartan fans for his coverage throughout the 2021 Michigan State football season, and this was by far one of his best moments to build on. He appeared to be much more comfortable in the slot during spring practice, and I am excited to see how he looks on the field after a whole year under Scottie Hazelton and Mel Tucker’s tutelage.

In terms of impact, this was one of the most impactful as well as crucial moments of the entire season for the Spartans. It was tough leaving this play out of my top 10, but I believe you will see why with the full list revealed in 10 days. The “wow” factor is there, and if this was a pick-six, I am sure it would be in my top three.

Most of the detracting factors from this play all factor down to one player: Martinez. This play was an awful one for the quarterback. For a four-year collegiate starter, this was an awful stare-down. He slightly made up for it with the saving tackle, but that same tackle detracts from it on my rankings. Nebraska’s end-of-the-year record does slightly hurt the view of this play, but it was still very necessary to win the game.

Statistically, this was Kimbrough’s only interception of the year, as well as his first career pick. Additionally, it was the second Nebraska turnover in the game. The Spartans thrived off late turnovers last year, and that is a trend I would love to see continue in 2022.

For those eagerly waiting for tomorrow’s moment, Jayden Reed is playing hero for the Spartans in a game we just highlighted yesterday.

dark. Next. 3 burning questions for MSU football's 2022 season