As No. 19/20 Michigan State welcomed in Northwestern on Homecoming Day in East Lansing on Saturday afternoon, the Spartans were looking to play a more ‘complete’ game than they had in their first four games of the season as they head into a tough stretch in their Big Ten Conference schedule.
But the Spartans again fell victim to a slow start in the first half and questionable play-calling once again as Northwestern jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first half and then scored the final 15 points of the game to knock off the Spartans for a 29-19 win.
Coming out of halftime trailing 14-6, the Michigan State (3-2 overall; 1-1 Big Ten) offense finally started to find its footing on its second drive of the third quarter when the Spartans used some trickeration to try and jump-start its offensive attack.
Two plays after its first attempt at a trick play, the Spartans ran a double reverse with the ball ending up in the hands of Felton Davis III, who carried the ball to the left side and cut upfield, going untouched for a 48-yard touchdown, cutting Northwestern’s lead to 14-12 with 7:18 left in the third quarter.
Michigan State would get the ball back on the Maryland 33-yard line following a Mike Panasiuk interception and would take advantage of the good field position.
The Spartans needed just six plays to find the end zone one again as Brian Lewerke found Davis, who made a catch over two defenders in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard score, giving Michigan State the lead back, 19-17 with 4:08 left in the third quarter.
But Northwestern (2-3 overall; 2-1 Big Ten) would bounce back on its next drive, retaking the lead on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Clayton Thorson to Cameron Green, putting the Wildcats back on top, 22-19 late in the third quarter.
During the week leading up to Saturday’s game, Michigan State’s play-calling was brought into question as the offense had struggled throughout the season and the play-calling and offensive coordinator Dave Warner left plenty to be desired once again on Saturday afternoon.
Spartan Nation asked Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio at his weekly press conference about the play-calling and Dantonio said that he leaves the in-game play calls up to his coordinators each week.
Warner and his play calls will likely be a topic of discussion again this week after the Spartan offense looked disastrous at moments, including a drive with under five minutes left to play that began at the Michigan State 1-yard line.
After Michigan State moved the ball out to the 10-yard line, the Northwestern pass rush very nearly came away with safeties on back-to-back plays. Then, on fourth down and one, Michigan State predictably lined up for a power run play that was stuffed by the Wildcat defense, forcing a turnover on downs.
Northwestern would then seal the win three plays later on a quarterback sneak by Thorson, extending the lead to 29-19 with just 2:51 left to play.
Michigan State would have one final chance in the closing minutes and drove inside the Northwestern 10-yard line, but would turn the ball over on downs with 25 seconds left.
Lewerke led the Michigan State offense with 329 yards passing and one touchdown along with one interception on 31-of-51 passing. Davis was Lewerke’s top target on the day, hauling in seven catches for 96 yards and a score, while also rushing for 50 yards on two carries. No other Michigan State ball carrier rushed for more than 15 yards on the afternoon.
Michigan State took a 3-0 late in the first quarter after a short Matt Coghlin field goal, but Northwestern had a quick response as Thorson connected with Kyric McGowan for a 77-yard touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 7-3 lead with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
After the Michigan State offense went three-and-out on its next drive, Northwestern would extend its lead on Thorson’s second touchdown toss, this time a 34-yard toss to J.J. Jefferson, making it 14-3 with 13:58 left before halftime.
Thorson had his way with the Michigan State defense for much of Saturday afternoon, completing 31 of his 47 pass attempts for 373 yards and three touchdowns, but did throw a pair of interceptions as well. Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Northwestern standout receiver Flynn Nagel as he made 10 catches for 111 yards.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Michigan State as the Spartans will now hit the road and head to Happy Valley to take on No. 11 ranked Penn State next Saturday at 3:30.
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