The defensive battle that most expected from this game held strong for most of the first half, but Michigan State pulled away with a touchdown four minutes before halftime and the Wildcats never regained the momentum.
After a three-and-out from both teams to start the game, the Cats found some its long-lost offensive rhythm on its second drive, picking up four first downs. They didn’t even slow down when quarterback/wide receiver Kain Colter left the game as the result of a big hit from safety Isaiah Lewis, who was ejected for targeting. Trevor Siemian carried the Cats to the Spartans’ seven yard line, but the drive stalled from there after a short rush and two incomplete passes. NU kicked the field goal for the three-point lead.
Northwestern’s defense held strong again, forcing a punt. NU’s third drive started strong with a nice third down conversion from running back Mike Trumpy on an option play. The drive stalled at the beginning of the second quarter, however, with a false start penalty and a dropped pass by receiver Rashad Lawrence. NU opted to punt from Michigan State’s 40-yard line.
Michigan State found its momentum on the legs of running back Jeremy Langford, who rushed eight times for 69 yards and the touchdown on the Spartans’ first drive of the second half to give Michigan State the 7-3 lead.
Northwester drove to the Spartans’ 37 yard line before stalling on the next drive, and after a timeout to mull things over, decided to punt again. They did pin Michigan State back on its own eight yard line, but the good punt was all for naught as receiver Bennie Fowler made a circus catch behind the back of an NU defender, turned, caught his balance, and ran untouched for an 87-yard touchdown.
Northwestern nearly stole back some momentum but terrible redzone offense once again spoiled a good drive. The Cats settled for another field goal to cut the lead to 14-6, which held until the end of the half.
What little hope NU had entering halftime disappeared quickly in the second half. Michigan scored a field goal on its first drive and a touchdown on its second drive while NU went scoreless in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter seemed more like a formality than anything, as the result was all but decided. Michigan State picked off Siemian near the beginning of the quarter, and on the next play ran the ball 37 yards for a touchdown and the 30-6 lead. The Spartans rushed the ball for the rest of the quarter to effectively wind down the clock. Michigan State clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship game with the win, and NU's postseason hopes ended with the loss.
What went right:
-Despite the two interceptions, Trevor Siemian played one of his best game since the match against Syracuse back on September 7, when he passed for 259 yards and three touchdowns. He played well enough to match that today, if only he had gotten some opportunities to throw the ball in the redzone. Siemian was 0-3 on eight NU plays within the Spartans’ 20-yard line.
-Although they dropped a few key passes, the wide receivers did create some running room for Mike Trumpy with great perimeter blocking to start the game, which is how they found some momentum atthe beginning. Unfortunately it didn't continue throughout the game.
What went wrong:
-The conservative playcalling lost NU this game. Three-man rushes? Punting from Michigan State’s 40-yard line?
-Kain Colter left the game with an “upper extremity injury” (shoulder) on NU’s first drive of the game. He did not return. It’s too early to say whether he’ll play next week, but it was a devastating way to leave his last-ever home game, and it would be a disappointing way to end his career at Northwestern.
-This was one of the first games this season, despite all of the truly heartbreaking plays, where Northwestern really seemed like it gave up. Other than the Wisconsin game, NU has been close every week. Today, with the postseason hopes fading with every Michigan State touchdown, the Cats finally acted like they were defeated.