Missed opportunities: Spartans hand Cats first loss of the season

Matt Forman

From the coin toss to the final snap, Northwestern was dominated.

Michigan State jumped out to an early 17-0 lead and kept the three-score advantage to the final whistle, topping NU 37-20.

“In the Big Ten, you can’t spot a team 17 points and expect to win,” senior running back Tyrell Sutton said. “We had three turnovers, and it was a three-possession game. That was the story of the game.”

After the Wildcats’ offense went three-and-out on its opening drive, bad punt return coverage allowed Spartans strong safety Otis Wiley to return to the ball to the NU 42-yard line. Six plays later, quarterback Brian Hoyer found Garrett Celek in the back of the end zone for a three-yard touchdown strike.

Junior cornerback Sherrick McManis fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Spartans (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) recovered at the NU 25. That turnover led to a Brett Swenson 26-yard field goal.

The Cats (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) got the ball back and started to drive near midfield. On third-and-10, senior quarterback C.J. Bachér rolled out right and appeared to have Rasheed Ward streaking across the middle, but Bachér threw across his body on the run and was intercepted by free safety Dan Fortener.

“He just made a poor decision,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He should have run out of bounds. I started playing football in the second grade. You never throw the ball late over the middle, right?”

Four plays later, Heisman Trophy hopeful Javon Ringer (35 carries, 124 yards) bounced a run outside and took it in for a 13-yard touchdown.

A little more than 12 minutes into the game, NU found itself in a 17-0 hole. The Cats’ offense had run eight plays. At that same juncture, Ringer had rushed 12 times for 61 yards and a touchdown.

With poor special teams play and turnovers leading to bad field position, NU ended up with misleading offensive numbers. The Cats ran 30 more plays and racked up 162 more yards of total offense than the Spartans. But they ended up on the wrong side of the score due to costly mistakes.

“Northwestern beat Northwestern today, ” Fitzgerald said.

NU’s average starting field position was its own 18-yard line. Michigan State’s average start was at the NU 49.

After the first quarter, the Cats traded points with the Spartans the rest of the game, with each team scoring 20 the rest of the way.

Bachér and Sutton rallied the Cats several times. At the start of the second quarter, Bachér put NU on the board with a 4-yard touchdown run.

Two drives later, Bachér engineered a 13-play drive to the Michigan State 23. On third-and-12, Bachér had senior wide receiver Eric Peterman open on a streak, but the throw was late – intercepted in the end zone by Spartans cornerback Johnny Adams.

That turnover led to a 14-point swing. Eight plays later, Hoyer found wide receiver Andrew Hawken for a 7-yard touchdown.

Bachér finished the game 34-of-61 for 283 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 32 yards and a score.

NU trimmed the lead to 10 points at the start of the second half when Bachér hit senior wide receiver Rasheed Ward on a 6-yard slant. It was the closest the Cats came to the Spartans all day.

Sutton set up the touchdown with a career-long 66-yard dash, taking a zone-option run through the right side of the line and going untouched to the Spartans’ 8-yard line. The senior totaled 183 all-purpose yards on the afternoon (139 rushing, 44 receiving).

After scoring on their opening drive of the second half, the Cats tried to sustain momentum by attempting an onside kick. NU did recover the kick, but committed two penalties – offsides and kick-catch interference – and gave Michigan State the ball at the NU 32-yard line.

“I thought it was there,” Fitzgerald said. “I thought their young man made a nice, heads-up play (calling for a fair catch). For us to totally not execute the play is totally disappointing.”

Ringer scored seven plays later on a 1-yard rush ­- his second touchdown on the day.

“If you play well on defense and offense and special teams, that’s a pretty good blueprint,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

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