Suffice it to say there weren’t a ton of positives in this one. Without further ado:
The junior kicker connected on a 39-yard field goal with the wind blowing HARD against him. The ball took an incredibly strange route off of the Wildcats’ kicker’s foot yet ended up dead center between the goal posts. It takes a lot of confidence to step up in that situation in such tumultuous weather conditions and in a game of many negatives, Kuhbander’s field goal is perhaps the one positive takeaway from the game.
Despite Hunter Johnson’s shaky performance at quarterback, the receiving corps, for the most part, made some solid catches and extended some drives for the ‘Cats. Moreover, eight Wildcats caught the ball as the team tried to spread the field. It’s nice to see multiple pass catchers getting involved.
Anderson struggled in the first half with only 4 carries for 4 yards, but coming off of a breakout performance last week against UNLV, the redshirt first-year finished the game with 86 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 16 total touches.
A dreary day in Evanston combined with two offensively-challenged teams saw an under of 35.5. It was the lowest under in a game between two FBS schools since 2016. Rest assured, Mick McCall’s offense made sure that his offense would wait until the end of the fourth quarter to take the over with Drake Anderson’s rushing touchdown with 2:41 left. We apologize for giving you poor advice.
Honorable Mentions: None! (Ok maybe the pass rush)
The ‘Cats’ run defense allowed Michigan State’s running back Elijah Collins plenty of room to run as he finished with 76 yards on 17 carries. And even when they didn’t give him space, the defense shot themselves in the foot by missing plenty of tackles for the third straight game. The poor tackling was on display for Michigan State’s opening score.
Coaching (defensive timeouts/playcalling):
The ‘Cats had an early opportunity to tie the game at seven in the 1st quarter with a second and goal at the one-yard line. Two straight halfback dives on second and third down were stuffed by the stout MSU defense, and a botched speed option on fourth down prevented the ‘Cats from getting anything out of the drive.
The coaching came into question again toward the end of the first half as Pat Fitzgerald opted to use 3 defensive timeouts as Michigan State drove into Wildcat territory, ultimately leading to an MSU touchdown to put Sparty up 14-3 before the half. One might question the need for Fitz to make adjustments as the half was winding down, allowing for the Spartans to find favorable matchups and eventually score on third down.
Johnson showed some flashes of his talent, but ultimately, after failing to lead the offense to a single first down in the third quarter, Fitz benched him in favor of backup Aidan Smith. On top of that, HJ threw a costly interception with the half winding down that the Spartans turned into a crucial touchdown to push their lead to two scores heading into the break. This tweet about explains the former 5-star recruit’s day pretty well:
To recap: Hunter Johnson averaged less than 3.5 yards per attempt through three quarters. They took him out for Aidan Smith, who immediately threw a bonkers interception on a screen pass.— Inside NU (@insidenu) September 21, 2019
It's 31 to 3.
Greg Newsome II and AJ Hampton struggled to manage MSU’s receiving corps as quarterback Brian Lewerke and the rest of a Michigan State offense moved the ball effectively and overall had a solid day in the passing game. Lewerke threw for 228 yards and 3 touchdown passes. Newsome had some flashes, nearly picking off a Lewerke pass in the first quarter, but ultimately, the ‘Cats allowed MSU’s receivers to run riot. Darrell Stewart and Cody White has huge days, averaging 15.4 and 17.5 yards per catch with nine combined receptions. Tight end Matt Seybert also caught two touchdown passes.
The ‘Cats are embarking upon the toughest stretch of their schedule, with games against Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Iowa, this was arguably one of Northwestern's most winnable games in this daunting slate. A little momentum going into Camp Randall against a Badgers team which just demolished Michigan would be nice.
I’m just going to leave this here. Tough day for most of the Inside NU staffers.
Honorable Mentions: Isaiah Bowser, the month of September, starts to halves