The Spartans raced out to an early 17-point lead before the Wildcats clawed their way back to make it competitive, but Michigan State pulled away at the end to win 29-20 in East Lansing. There was plenty of bad in the first half, and things evened out as the game went along, but NU fell flat in the end.
Northwestern’s passing attack struggled to find a rhythm for most of this game and part of that was due to missteps and drops from the wideouts, but they made timely plays when they needed to. Kyric McGowan, Riley Lees and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman combined for 161 yards on 16 receptions, and each of them made difficult and contested catches on key downs. Some errant throws from Ramsey prevented them from having a bigger day, some of which were caused by a lack of time in the pocket.
The wideouts will certainly need to clean up their mistakes as the season comes to a close, but the trio of senior receivers will need to continue to step up for an offense that has been unable to find success running the ball.
In a game where mistakes were abundant on both offense and defense, special teams was a consistent positive all game long. Charlie Kuhbander went 2-for-2, including key field goals in the first half that kept Northwestern competitive going into the half. Derek Adams averaged 46.5 yards per punt, including two that pinned the Spartans inside the 20. Coco Azema and Kyric McGowan both had deep kick returns past the 30-yard line, and Riley Lees drew a penalty on a punt return. Fitz has talked about the importance of playing well in all three facets of the game, and although the offense and defense left much to be desired, the play of special teams was flawless.
The junior corner showed again today why he’s one of the best corners in the country by locking up Michigan State receivers all game long. Newsome was left on an island for most of the game and performed excellently, batting down passes whenever the ball was thrown his way. He did not have any noticeable lapses in coverage and did not draw any penalties as he continued his campaign for a spot on the All-Big Ten defensive team.
Honorable Mentions: #ThirdQuarterNorthwestern, drawing penalties
Against the worst rushing offense in the Big Ten, the ‘Cats let the Spartans establish themselves on the ground from the jump. Whether it came in the form of an outside run or a quarterback draw, Northwestern simply did not have an answer to stop the rush and allowed the Michigan State offense to consistently convert third downs on the ground. The front seven, which performed admirably against Wisconsin, struggled to get to the outside and make one-on-one tackles all game long. Surrendering 134 rushing yards to Michigan State in the first half is far from acceptable from the No. 3 defense in the nation.
The defense stiffened in the second half and held MSU to just 61 yards on the ground in the final two frames, but similar to the game against Nebraska, NU simply did not have an answer for the quarterback run. Ricky Lombardi rushed for 65 yards and converted key first downs with his legs down the stretch to seal the game.
The secondary has proven all season long how deep it can be, and it largely stepped up again today, holding Rocky Lombardi to under 50 percent and just 167 yards passing. However, junior corner Cam Ruiz was burnt on two separate occasions in the first half for touchdowns. The first came on a 75-yard bomb where Michigan State’s Jalen Nailor simply ran by Ruiz and the second on a 15-yard post route in one-on-one coverage.
Lombardi went just 4-of-13 in the first half with two of those completions resulting in the two touchdowns, so at halftime, the veteran corner was subbed out and replaced by AJ Hampton. Ruiz has largely excelled as a blitzer and run defender so far this season, but his shaky coverage won’t cut it if the ‘Cats want to make a run this postseason.
Northwestern has had trouble running the ball in recent weeks but thought it might be able to get back on track against a pedestrian Spartan front seven. The Wildcats did not just have trouble on the ground, averaging only 1.7 yards per carry, but they also could not give Ramsey clean pockets. NU’s signal caller was sacked four times, and he often had to release throws earlier than he wanted due to pressure and couldn’t escape the pocket as he normally can.
Against one of the best defenses in the country in Wisconsin, struggles for the offensive line were understandable, but there were few excuses against Michigan State.
Honorable Mentions: Pass pressure, Michigan State’s uniforms, the entire first half, catching the ball, turnover ratio, injuries, hopes and dreams