EAST LANSING, Michigan — A heartbreaker in East Lansing.
No. 8 Northwestern (5-1) lost 29-20 to Michigan State (2-3) in a sloppy, turnover-filled contest. The Wildcats’ first loss of the season ruins NU’s chance at a perfect season and likely the College Football Playoff and will push back the opportunity to clinch the division by at least another week.
The Wildcats dug themselves an early hole that they were able to climb out of, but they couldn’t put the Spartans away when they had the chance.
Peyton Ramsey threw for 210 yards on 21-of-43 passing with a rushing touchdown and three interceptions. The senior receiver trio of Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, Kyric McGowan and Riley Lees once again proved to be reliable combining for 16 receptions, 161 receiving yards but dropped a few meaningful balls. The run game was lackluster yet again, managing 73 yards on 36 attempts.
After a disastrous first half defensively, Mike Hankwitz’s unit bounced back for a respectable second half, holding MSU to 118 total yards. But the unit failed to register a sack, had just one takeaway and could not stop quarterback Rocky Lombardi on key third down scrambles. Paddy Fisher led the defense with 12 tackles and an interception while Blake Gallagher, Chris Bergin and Brandon Joseph added 11, 11 and 10, respectively.
The Spartans struck first with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Rocky Lombardi to Jalen Nailor to take the early 7-0 lead. On the next possession, MSU cornerback Shakur Brown intercepted Peyton Ramsey’s pass on another fourth-and-short and returned it to the NU 11-yard line. The referees originally threw a flag for what looked like a defensive pass interference but chose to pick it. MSU added a field goal for a 10-0 advantage.
The Spartans then extended their lead with a 13-play, 85-yard series, capped off with a 15 yard touchdown pass to Jayden Reed. For the second time this season, NU fell into an early 17-0 hole on the road.
The Wildcat offense finally scored its first points early in the second off back-to-back Charlie Kuhbander field goals. They would be the final tallies of the half as Spartan kicker Matt Coghlin missed a 49-yard field goal attempt.
Peyton Ramsey started the first possession of the second half looking like an entirely different quarterback. On the possession, he threw for 55 yards and rushed for a touchdown on a boot leg on fourth-and-goal.
Late in the third quarter, MSU’s offense went three-and-out inside its own 10-yard line, which set NU up with ideal field position in MSU territory. Riley Lees then hauled in a huge reception for 20 yards on third-and-long, and true freshman running back Cam Porter ultimately punched in a one-yard score to give NU its first lead of the game.
On the next defensive possession, Paddy Fisher intercepted Lombardi’s pass, setting up the Wildcat offense in MSU territory with a chance at a two-score lead. In a very Northwestern moment, Kyric McGowan fumbled a reverse handoff on the very next play, which the Spartans pounced on and turned into the game-tying field goal with 10 minutes remaining.
With over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Peyton Ramsey forced a third down throw to Berkeley Holman that was intercepted once again by Brown. Holman took an unfortunate hit between two Spartan defenders and had to be carted off the field and taken to a local hospital. Michigan State turned the pick into another Coghlin field goal, and the lead, with 3:35 remaining.
Michigan State recovered a last-ditch lateral for a fumble to cement a nine-point win.
Lombardi finished the game 11-of-27 with 167 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Heyward led all rushers with 23 attempts for 95 yards, and Nailor led all receivers with three receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown.
Next week, Northwestern (5-1) is slated to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-3) on the road, but the game may be in jeopardy due to a COVID-19 outbreak within Minnesota’s football program.