by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Stars of the Game:
1. Jared Carpenter (Northwestern): Nine tackles, two pass breakups and one interception
2. Dan Vitale (Northwestern): Nine receptions for 110 yards
3. Michigan State Rush Defense: 57 rushing yards (the Wildcats' season low)
4. Trevor Siemian (Northwestern): 13-of-23 for 165 yards
5. Jeff Budzien (Northwestern): 3-for-3 on field goals cashing in from 24, 43 and 27 yards out
6. Dion Sims (Michigan State): Five receptions for 102 yards
7. Keith Mumphrey (Michigan State): Six receptions for 79 yards
EAST LANSING, MICH. — Northwestern pulled it out. The Wildcats finally came out on the right side of a gut-wrencher, handing the Spartans a 23-20 loss on Senior Day at Spartan Stadium. Michigan State had won the last four in this series, dating back to 2008, but Northwestern finally emerged on top due to the strength of its physical secondary, the outstanding poise of quarterback Trevor Siemian and a few too many turnovers from Michigan State. Thankfully for the Wildcats, even though they were never able to stick a finishing blow, the Spartans turned the dagger on themselves with two interceptions and two fumbles. So, Northwestern now has eight wins, secures its spot above Michigan State in the conference standings, and has essentially assured itself of a third-place finish in the Legends Division. All reports have the Wildcats going to Florida for the Gator Bowl or the Outback Bowl, assuming they can pick up that ninth win in Evanston against Illinois. To the drive-by-drive summary of the second half, here we go:
Northwestern couldn't have had a better start to the second half, as David Nwabuisi brought back a pick-six, weaving through the defense, after a thunderous hit on Andrew Maxwell helped force the pick.
NORTHWESTERN 13 - MICHIGAN STATE 5 (14:06 3rd Quarter)
Le'Veon Bell picked up where he left off with a twisting run through the middle for nine yards. Maxwell then found Keith Mumphrey for his fifth reception of the game along the left sideline. Michigan State continued to take advantage of the room Northwestern's corners gave it on short 10-yard outs, finding Tony Lippett for a catch along the right sideline. He soon after found Mumphrey for his sixth reception in the slot as the Spartans continued to carve the Wildcats up with their short passing game. That was followed by a fine pass from Maxwell to Aaron Burbridge, as the pass hit him high, despite blanket coverage from Quinn Evans. Michigan State then succeeded on its two-point conversion to tie the game, as Maxwell easily found Mumphrey over the middle.
NORTHWESTERN 13 - MICHIGAN STATE 13 (9:43 3rd Quarter)
Mike Trumpy, with Venric Mark out of the game with an injury to an upper extremity, barreled up the middle for five yards to begin Northwestern's first drive of the half. Kain Colter then found Rashad Lawrence to the left, but his wild day continued, as his pass was well short, forcing Lawrence to stoop to the ground, losing any yardage after the catch that he might have gotten. Northwestern's drive nearly died there, as Colter's hurried third-down pass fell well short of his intended receiver, but a face-mask bailed the Wildcats out. Trevor Siemian came in, and quickly lofted a beautiful pass to Dan Vitale on the run down the middle of the field. He found Vitale again with another perfectly thrown pass to the sideline, marking Vitale's sixth reception of the game. Colter finished the drive by rolling out and finding Tim Riley on the run. The final three passes from the Wildcats were sharp, as Vitale remained Northwestern's sharpest weapon.
NORTHWESTERN 20 - MICHIGAN STATE 13 (7:11 3rd Quarter)
The Wildcats forced a quick three-and-out, helped by a huge blind-side sack from Chi Chi Ariguzo. The boobirds came out at Spartan Stadium on a deep ball on second-and-19, but quite frankly, Maxwell's pass was overthrown, anyway. The Spartans' punt resulted in some drama as Michigan State obviously ran into the returner, but that penalty was wiped out by an idiotic, obvious shove from Mike Jensen well after the play was over. Northwestern quickly turned in a three-and-out, giving Michigan State the ball at its own 38-yard line.
Michigan State began with a pass over the middle to Aaron Burbridge, but Burbridge fumbled the ball as he fell to the ground, and cornerback Demetrius Dugar pounced on the fumble. As the referee ardoitly stated as he held up the fumble upon further review, "Catch, fumble, turnover." On third down, Siemian looked for Rashad Lawrence over the middle, but the perfect throw, heaved right at his chest, bounced flatly off his hands. Northwestern had turned in a second straight three-and-out.
Le'Veon Bell began Michigan State's penultimate drive of the third quarter with a solid eight-yard pickup. He then escaped around the left end for a first down. Maxwell then went downfield for the umpteenth time to Aaron Burbridge, but Burbridge couldn't hold on with a Northwestern defender on his back. The Wildcats, overall, were having a far better day against the deep pass. With heavy pressure on Maxwell, Northwestern forced an errant third-down pass to Sims, allowing the Wildcats to regain possession.
Northwestern began with a really solid carry from Mike Trumpy, as he swept from right to left, assisted by perfect blocking, for a gain of five. On third-and-two, however, William Gholston batted down Siemian's pass attempt. Michigan State started its own drive weakly, however, as Le'Veon Bell slipped to the turf for a one-yard gain. A screen to Bennie Fowler worked far better, however, as a perfect block ensured a pickup of 15. The next pass wasn't so hot as safety Jared Carpenter stepped in front of a deep ball down the left sideline and brought it down despite absorbing a huge blow. That marked Michigan State's fourth turnover of the game.
Northwestern still couldn't deal a dagger. After picking up nine yards on their first carry, the Wildcats failed to get one on their next two downs. They looked to pay the price, when Le'Veon Bell started right and cut left for 17 yards to carry the Spartans past midfield. Bell then scampered through a tiny hole in the right side of the line for a seven-yard gain. Michigan State broke away from its tried-and-true formula, however. With their run up the middle working each and every time, the Spartans opted for a reverse and a pass with four wide. No matter, on third down, Michigan State found Dion Sims for a first down. Northwestern continued to struggle to bring the 285-pounder down, struggling with him for several yards. Maxwell capped off the drive with an easy touchdown to Tony Lippett to tie the contest at 20.
NORTHWESTERN 20 - MICHIGAN STATE 20 (9:22 4th Quarter)
Northwestern continued to find superback Dan Vitale, including on a pass down the right seam for a 41-yard gain. Vitale was inexplicably wide open. It marked Vitale's eighth reception of the game. Siemian then went right to Tony Jones for another first down. On third-and-seven, Siemian lofted a pass deep into the end zone, but free safety Kurtis Drummond timed his jump perfectly and deflected the pass away. Budzien capped off the drive with a short field goal.
NORTHWESTERN 23 - MICHIGAN STATE 20 (7:30 4th Quarter)
On third-and-four, Maxwell somehow evaded a sack and found his receiver over the middle for a first down. Then, on a second-and-six, Le'Veon Bell plummeted up the middle, gaining a couple of extra yards toward the end. Then, on third-and-one, Bell escaped around the left end for a big gain and a first down in Northwestern territory. The Wildcats did well to stem the momentum, however, as Drew Smith came around from the outside, sneaking up behind Maxwell, and dragging him down by his ankles. Further pressure forced a third-and-16. With good pressure once again, Maxwell had to go to Larry Caper on a short pass left, and he wove around for nine yards, still well short of the marker.
Northwestern managed to burn some time off the clock by picking up a first down, but still, Michigan State had plenty of time to respond. Unlike in past instances, however, the Wildcats' pass defense was simply smothering. On first down, Maxwell looked for Tony Lippett, but a thunderous hit by Jared Carpenter dislodged the ball. On second down, Maxwell went for Bell short with no more success. On third down, he went for Burbridge over the middle. The fans wanted a pass interference call as it seemed like he got his hands in there early, but no flag was thrown. Finally, on fourth down, Jared Carpenter reigned supreme once again, as Dion Sims caught a ball over the middle for a first down. Some defensive backs might have let him have it and simply gone for the tackle. Carpenter went to rip it away. And he succeeded, doggedly fishing for the ball around Sims' facemask until he finally ripped it away. And just like that. Game, set and match. Northwestern had its eighth win of the season.